Friday, September 11, 2009

An Expert of the Highest Order (The Stench of The City, Part II)

And so I waited, while my friend left.

"Dr.Pillai, sir?"

In full dress uniform stood an official of the High Court of Kerala, though I did not know it then. Not the khakhi dress of the hospital peon but starched white with a cap with a dignified bearing. Black boots polished with care till they shone. It was obvious this man, whoever he was, took his job quite seriously.

I nodded in confirmation, and motioned him to a seat. He preferred to remain standing.

"I represent the authority of Judicial Ombudsman. A complaint has been taken into file at the Hon: High Court of Kerala against the Corporation of the City of T_____, and you sir, are hereby directed to jointly conduct an enquiry into the facts of the case with other experts and submit your recommendations to the Court."

Now, I had just the slightest idea as to who or what an ombudsman was, but as for the rest of what he had said, It might as well have been Greek or Latin.

I took a long look at the man, to see if he would just burst out laughing, and tell me this was all just one hell of a practical joke.

"Hold on one sec. What exactly is it that you are asking me to examine, and who (the hell) told you I am an expert in these matters?"

"The court has asked for an advice from the dept of SPM. Your name comes highly recommended."

"The Old man, I mean, Prof V________ told you this? Yes? I see."

"And what exactly?"

In reply he said just one word: The name of the village panchayat that housed the waste-disposal establishment that handled all the waste generated by the city. The once obscure town was now a house-hold name, thanks to the decade-old struggle by the local population objecting to the operation of the waste-disposal plant close to their homes and places of living and sources of livelihood. I had vague memories of strikes turning violent, and being put down by force.

I groaned inwardly. This was getting worse all the time. Missing lunch seemed the least of my worries just then. I was frantically trying to remember newspaper reports I'd read years ago, about corporation officials on routine visits being held captive by the people.

He took my stunned silence as the cue to go on.

The people had formed a citizen's action council and made a submission to the court to immediately halt the running of the plant. It was posing a grave public health problem to the area, they claimed, and submitted a list of people who were allegedly suffering from health problems related to the running of the plant.

My job-definition would be to track each of them down, establish the veracity of their complaints, determine if the same was due to their proximity to the waste-disposal plant, and submit a report on the same.

The corporation had arranged for four teams to investigate. They had got people with qualifications and experience in public health, and nothing better to do on the week before Onam, for three teams, but they had to send one more 'expert' to head the last one.

"Your pick-up vehicle will be here in a short while. The other doctors have already agreed upon a questionnaire and flow-chart for everyone to follow, so that work of different teams can be standardized. That should help you."

Will surprises never cease? What did he mean 'In a short while'? Was it that they wanted me to go today and now? Then I remembered, and knew the reason behind the professor's good manners. Someone had backed out at the last moment, and I was to be the fill-in.

He saluted smartly, and left. Funny, I think, that he should.


  1. Lol...I know I shouldn't be laughing, but then, blame it all on the way you have made it so comical. That was a nice read. I guess, no points for guessing that you missed your meal? Or did some angel from heaven pop up to give you one? I so so hope you got your Onam feast....:(

  2. You got a salute!! You were highly recommended, you are the chosen one mate!! whats a lunch compared to all this huh? moreover you get a vehical to come and pick you and you get to hear and be part of terms like ombudsman(really wierd term) sorry I am laughing like mad!!!

  3. Good life you got there mate! You have been entrusted/thrusted with responsibility to serve people by the Govt of India. You get salutes? I 've never heard of medicosbeing saluted although they should be.

  4. Destiny: this Onam was better than the previous one, if that's any consolation. Your name reminds one of the character from the matrix

    Sujatha: Kindness towards scapegoats.. is not really kindness, is it? Not only did I have a pick-up vehicle, there was a police escort (probably not just ceremonial as it is a sensitive area, 4 public health nurses and 2 health inspectors to assist.

    AbsSci: Medicos do get saluted on a regular basis, esp in govt sector. But I dont expect the SI or CI will remember that if and when I have to go to police station. In their sphere, medicos do wield authority and real power.

  5. Seems like someone had a very nice time.
    Whats a feast compared to being escorted by a government cavalcade. And all those salutes, my god! Way to go bluebird!

  6. hats off, doc, the way you write. gripping. the story is really on a roll. you must take writing as a passion (i was going to write 'profession' and remembered you are a doctor).

  7. @Aparna: I did have a memorable time, for more reasons than having a police escort. Some day, I might add a third part to this and tell you about it.

    @Venu: I too sometimes think I should try my hand at other ways of earning a living, especially during my more challenging days as a doc. And who knows, I just might, one of these days. Good to see you think I have a future.

  8. Being a doctor is a sprawling platform for experience. You get to see a great deal in life and see it real, because in sickness and death people don't pretend. I can name at least a dozen great writers for whom their profession as physicians was the wellspring of their creativity.

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Thanks for giving me this moment of your life.