Thursday, May 28, 2009

Homecoming, again

I had to go home last week.
I say, 'Had to.'

One grandfather's gone, the other on his way probably. Must go and see.

Started as late as possibly could.
Stayed with the old man long enough, and thus,

delayed reaching home as much as possible.

Once at home talked as less as possible.

Polite, courteous, distant.

Mother tried to initiate conversation.
Gave polite replies that couldn't lead to lengthy conversation.

She got the message, and retired to her bed room, hurt.

In the morning, asked if I needed any money.

That cruel question, again.

No specific need, I said.
If u want to give, there's the bank account. I added.

Stick it down your throat, I said in my mind.

She gave me some money.
'Thanks' I said, and shoved the money inside my wallet.
'No big deal', I said in my mind.

She then offered me some of the jackfruit halwa she'd made.
An exquisite delicacy, very difficult to make too.
I said sure, and thanks.

U cant replace harsh words with sweet taste, I said in my mind.

I was about to get on my bike and commenced the rather elaborate procedure of cold-starting an old Royal Enfield motorcycle

She came rushing with a hurriedly made packet.
I didn't even ask her what it was. I was already late.

Or may be I didn't care.

I asked her to toss it somewhere into my bag.

She did, and i did not think any further about it.

I returned to my quarters at the large teaching hospital where until recently I was a student,
And am now at a no-man's land between being a student and an independent professional.

Was drenched to the skin. That and a fall into a rain drain, having lost control in the heavy downpour.

Called in a leave for the day, surfed net for a while, went to sleep.

Woke up late in the afternoon.

It was raining outside my window. Moisture peeping into the room through cracks in the ceiling.

I was cold and lonely and hurt and hungry.

There was no food.

There was no heat and no warmth either.

I remembered the packet that mother had tossed into the bag. Fished my hand inside the bag and found the packet.

A half-finished bag of chips, and in another plastic cover, one last ariyunda out of a packet for a dozen.

All that she had in the house.

All that she had.

If only I could have a good cry..

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

a dime and a thought

I figured out something the other day. That I am a cheap miser.

The Bus conductor, I am sure, must have thought so, by the way he pushed 50p change into my hand and that too only when I had reminded him that, well, he owed me 50p.
I gave him 5 rupee for a Rs 4.5 bus ticket, for which I received a ticket, and no change. I waited for the half hour that the journey lasted, and then as I was about to disembark, gently reminded him that he owed me money. At which point he took out his black regulation leather bag, opened it with far more force than was necessary, fished out a 50p coin with the facial expression of someone being troubled for something far beneath what was worth his time, and then pushed the coin into my open palm.

I think he took me for a cheap miser.

Later during that same day, I ordered something worth Rs 9.50 (I have become wary of ordering items ending at prices other than whole numbers since) and paid with a 10 rupee note. My baker thanked me, as if to signal the end of the transaction. But I being the stingy miser that I am, the transaction was far from over as far as I was concerned.

He owed me 50p.

I asked for my change.

I like my baker. He is just about as straight forward as they come. He doesn't confuse me.

He told me I was a cheap miser to have asked for my change.

I like my baker. He, like me, knows the value of 50p.

Two people giving you similar feedback over two separate incidents on the same day, deserves to be given some thought.

So they, my baker and the bus conductor, had me thinking, could it really be that I am as impossible as to be a misfit amongst my peers? After all, on both occasions I had had no lesser than two thousand rupees in my wallet, and another 12 easily accessible via ATM card. I maintain a motorcycle, the way some people maintain antique cars - though it costs me at least as much as it'd to maintain myself in style. Only that day had I had a light breakfast for 25rs from a hotel, given the boy that served me Rs 30, and walked away. As a matter of policy, I do not wish to talk about the amounts that I have from time to time spent on poor patients in our wards over the years.

I will only say this much, that I have donated my lifeblood 7 times, and on 4 of these occasions for total strangers.

So I cant be that bad a man afterall, I reason.

I asked for my change, because on both occasions the other party failed to acknowledge its existence.

In doing so, they insulted my hard toil that went into the earning of that dime.

That, and, that alone, made me ask for my change.

Read somewhere, sometime back: He who wastes one hour of time, is yet to learn the true value of life. I'd like to say something similar about a dime too.

I dont understand money. Both my dad and my brother are financial experts and they have both given up on me. For the love of God, I do not understand the stock-market. Though I would love to make some money there by sitting by a computer and merely playing with numbers. Some day, if I make enough money, my brother or dad might be able to do that for me so am not overly worried though.

What I am worried, is that I might someday come to disrespect hardwork and take its fruits for granted.

I think it is precisely because I have 2 thousand rupees in the wallet and another 12 in the bank and more coming, that I have to be on the guard against myself.

But of course, I might just be a hopeless romantic pining away about such mundane things as a dime.

I think I'll, alongwith my baker and the conductor, join the party.

I plan to pay Rs 9.00 and Rs 4.00 respectively, next time.

I am sure both these gents wouldn't even notice the 50p then either.

PS: I have a few 25p coins with me too. I wonder if I should quietly bury them and move on..

Money given away is not a waste. That's what money is all good for - to be given away. And woe to the man that worships money as an end in itself.

But perhaps I am just a hopeless romantic.


a place by the sea

Bernada is the name of a nearly 100 year old clinic by the beach, in this city.

A quaint little place, still run pretty much the same way as it was when first established by some missionary with a sense of beauty.

I say it, because the place is beautiful.

An ancient building, and an even more ancient sister in charge. Neat white half-curtains on wooden windowpanes. Everything in its place.

A lone mangotree.

A sense of permanence.

The duty doctor's room having an old table and chair, bed and almirah.

Too bad the bed is not a four-pillar complete with mosquito nets, completing the colonial set-up. Not that a mosquito net was necessary, with gentle breeze from the sea flowing through the building at all times there are no mosquitoes to speak of.

As of now, the duty doctor's room has a regulation iron frame hospital bed. There are other indications too, of cracks in this otherwise picture-perfect place. Like the attached bathroom with missing toilet cover. I am sure Mr Romantic Missionary that started the place would never have stood it.

Perhaps, all is not quite well about this picture-perfect place.

Bernada is a place on the decline. As sad as it is true. Sadder still that it doesn't have to be. As I said, its still run pretty much the same way as when it was first established. A Nursing home giving basic healthcare. There must've been a time, before the city grew upon itself and extended right upto the beach, before the airport and not far-away tourist village were established, that it was the highlight of the area populated mostly by christian fisherfolk. Back then, the place must have been indispensable.

That is not the case today. Or Atleast that's what most people seem to think anyway. There being no dearth of fanciful multi-speciality hospitals in the city, they say the day of the nursing home, manned by a single doctor or at most a handful of non-specialists, is over. That they'd rather pay extra and go to one of those places that you couldn't at first sight differentiate from a star hotel lobby.

Now, I have nothing against multi-speciality hospitals. Or star hotels for that matter. And I honestly do wish everyone had the money and opportunity to get the level of healthcare that they deserved.

But there is still a strong case in favour of your neighbourhood nursing home. Your friendly neighbourhood doctor you would want to visit not just to talk about your ailments, but also about your daughter's marriage. Its About a whole value system that is being withered down by the onslaught of corporate culture (or the lack of it)

I have nothing against corporate culture either.

Its just that the relationship between doctor and patient is a sacrosanct one, and the best part of it is irrevocably lost when you try to manage it along the lines of a consultant-client contract.

I know how that one sounds. Repetitive and Pedagogous.

But that doesn't make it untrue.

Emotional issues apart, there is a really strong case in favour of having small nursing homes alongside large multi-speciality hospitals.

I say alongside, not instead of.

The issue is not just one of spiralling costs of healthcare.

It is also about local responsibility.

About inclusive access to healthcare.

About not losing your identity, Anonymity being the hallmark of what is known as Evidence Based Medicine or simple EBM.

They figured that out in the west a while ago: That corporate logics dont work that well in healthcare. They are going back to small single-doctor clinics in the UK right now. The Americans know it too, but since its bad business they would rather not talk about it. One look at comparative figures of UK and US health statistics will tell you the rest of the story. Guess who is better off - the Brits or the Americans?

I had ample time to think of all this while I worked night shift at Barnada Nursing Home recently.

For there were not very many patients that came to the hospital. I wonder if they had been forewarned about a certain doctor being on duty on a certain date. I wish that had been the case.

But I know that it was not. That Barnada, alongwith many other small clinics like it, is facing closure.

Patients dont want to go there. Doctors dont want to work there. Unable to hire full-time doctors, small-time nursing homes time and again fall upon a pool of just-graduate (and sometimes not yet graduated) doctors to mann their services.

That's where the person who wrote this comes from.

I once read while in school, many years ago, that Home is the place, where, when you have to go, They have to take you in. I did not understand one bit of it, but for some reason the words stuck in my memory. It was only much later, when I had understood a little more about the tortuous ways of love in the world, that I learnt what whole turbulent world was hidden beneath them.

There's still very much a case in favour of your neighbourhood nursing home indeed.

The end of an era.

(This happened way back in 2004. As a mark of respect to the person mentioned below, I choose to make this my first post.
Described as written on a rainy afternoon in september, 2004. Most of this is copied verbatim from that year's personal diary. I first thought I would make a new note, but then realized that, with time, this too has become just another memory and I'd be better off going back to what I first wrote down about it)

Today morning, mother informed me that an elderly lady in the neighbourhood, who was particularly fond of myself and my brother, and was rehallly like a godmother to our whole family, had passed away few days back. She said this casually, and without any sense of urgency, along with news of everything else that had happened in my hometown since my last visit. She didn't feel it necessary to inform me immediately of the demise, for indeed it was not a spectacular event at all. An old lady in her eighties passing away in her sleep. Just like that. But that was the end of a whole lot of things for me.

We used to call her as "sarammoomma". In fact, everybody who ever knew her that I know of, called her by that name. That was all there was that was needed. The name "sarammoomma". In that way I never got to know her real name when I was a kid, and I never learned it later on. "ammoomma" means an old lady or a grandmother, "sar" for 'sir' because she used to be the one people would take their children to, to have their first schooling, or to ward off evil luck. The people believed she had a goodness in her that could ward off evil luck, and sending their children to her, they believed, made the best investment for their children's character.

For as long as I can remember, "sarammoomma" had always been the same. Things changed continually all around while we were growing up. The primary school where we studied might have closed for the christmas week, and we would return, only to find the previously dull white-coloured walls now in refreshing pink. And that they had constructed new lavatories. Seperate for boys and girls! The changes became more profound when I went away to study in far off places and became a monthly ,or at times even yearly, visitor. Whole buildings might have disappeared, and new bilanes carved out of old trails. Suffice to say, I would be surprised if I did not find anything new or different since my last visit. But in the middle of all that chaos, there would be sarammoomma, always the same, smelling of her sweet herbal oils, giving me the news about a lot of people I didn't know, racing off in the evenings to be in time for the evening ritual at the temple, always present at all special occassions with those she considered dear - and there were quite a few of them. My memories of the goddess temple near our house will never be complete without sarammoomma in the front line, directing everybody including the priest, and nobody, not even the priest, would dare question her authority in temple matters.

There was a time, a few years back, when I had returned home after a year or so and was so pleasently surprised to find her fighting fit - and not one bit changed. A couple of visits later, and always my enquiries to my mother about sarammoomma's health having been positively reassured, I had sort of accepted that sarammoomma would somehow stay like that for a long time to come. So perhaps that's why I couldn't accept an old and ailing lady in her eighties passing away in her sleep: because she was sarammoomma, and that meant a lot.

That was the snapping up of an umbilical link to a childhood I now realize is never going to come back. And when I say that, I mean not just for me.

I realize its a childhood that my children would only be able to guess at.

I dont think we would ever again have a simple, uneducated old lady who, by sheer force of her goodness, would have the love and respect of one and all. Or that people, without caring about identities, would want their children to learn their first alphabet from her.

Loss of innocence has been one defining trait of moving into adulthood.