Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The beautiful land of Orissa

There is a running joke among the staff in the operation theatre (where I spend 90% of my time and hence have more friends!) that I spend more time in the train than in the hospital! While that is not strictly accurate, I realise that in the last year, I have done far more travelling than I would have liked to or expected. And it's been fun - for the most part. Of course, travelling by Indian Railways is always an experience, especially in the heat of summer. I am still recovering from the amount of fluid, salt and energy that was melted off me in the last 24 hours! But the joys of reaching my destination very soon cause whatever discomfort I may have felt on the way to recede into the recesses of my mind, where it remains, if at all, merely a distant memory. And this time is no different. Seeing my brother and his wife is of course my greatest pleasure and the reason for the trip. But in Orissa there is much more. Meeting old friends from Bisamcuttack, the mission hospital where my brother is working and where I spent 10 days some years ago, as part of a trip with medical students from Vellore, is another great joy. And while Meghalaya has blessed me greatly with its beauty, Orissa is no different. The engaging beauty of the flowing green plains surrounded by the majestic, yet brooding hills fills my soul with peace and pleasure as it dances to the beautiful melody of nature. No tiredness can remain when confronted by such energising beauty. Every time I travel, I am amazed at the beauty of this great land - every corner has something different and unique that thrills my soul and makes all the effort worthwhile.

And in Orissa, there is another dimension to this beauty. There is the knowledge that hidden behind the beauty of God's creation is the sad story of man's destructive intervention. A story of greed, exploitation and selfishness that have been the trademarks of human involvement throughout the centuries. In more 'advanced' places, these stories are sweetened and diluted by many sops that masquerade as 'reservation'. But here and in many such places in our country, the stark truth is clear to see by anyone who desires to look. Poverty in the extreme, basic health problems of the highest magnitude, illiteracy and starvation are all facts of life here. They are all just below the surface and if your eyes are even half open, you cannot miss them. The all-too-familiar tale of honest, innocent people being hoodwinked and exploited by the 'educated' outsiders. Not to mention the beautiful land (and many of its inhabitants) being despoiled in the name of 'development'.

Much has been said about this in many fora and I will say no more here. But I will salute my friends who work in this area of extreme need. Where even basic health care is unavailable at any other centre for a radius of 300 kilometers. Where every day, they work long hours to care for people who would otherwise have died. Literally. Where the community health department has made a significant difference in the lives of the local people by innovative and community-driven endeavours. And where, inspite of all the stress of a busy life, there is great fufillment and peace for all involved in the work. A fact that is written clearly on all the faces and is easy to read by someone from outside, like me. I salute the men and women thoughout this nation who have made what the rest of us would consider 'sacrifices' in order to lend a helping hand to down-trodden people whom the rest of the world tries to forget. And pray that there will be more like them who are willing to tread the road less travelled and be the change this country needs.

P.S. As Amy has our camera, I have 'borrowed' some pictures from Dr. Viju John, a paediatric surgeon who works in another hospital near here - Asha Kiran Hospital in Lamptaput.

Friday, May 20, 2011

These amazing kids!

When I saw this video, I was not sure whether to be impressed or scared! Can talent manifest at such a young age? Or is it just the regimented training programme these kids (supposedly from North Korea) must have gone through that has made them so good! Chalk up one more point for the Tiger Mother!! (HT: Z)

And if you thought those kindergartners were good, check out these kids. They are a deal older and their improvisation is a testament to their unbelievable talent. I guess bluegrass music runs in the blood..... Which is why most bluegrass music groups are family affairs.....(HT: Z)

P.S. Now that I have stopped working and am supposed to be packing, I keep drifting back to my RSS reader where there are more than 1000 unread posts! So there may be a few more of these random posts till I leave for my long month of travelling!!

P.P.S Yes, sad to say, there's more travelling!!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Wedding proposals!

Somehow though I promised myself to stay away from the blog till I had left Shillong, it keeps drawing me back!! Today, I saw a wedding proposal video that I had to share - this guy made his wife-to-be feel oh-so-special. That's what I realised at the end of it. I need to look for ways to make my dearest feel special everyday..... that's sometimes a tough ask in the midst of all the activities of daily living(!), but well worth the effort...... (HT: DB)

And on the subject of proposals, I'm sure there are many good ones on the net, but this one from a friend of mine was also something special. Different...... but very special!!

Geeky Surprise Proposal : The Gecko & The Mouse from Arpit Jacob on Vimeo.
I'm a little too embarrassed about my proposal, though I did put in my two annas worth to make it special!! So I'll leave it at that for now!! Maybe when I get to know you a little better......!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

New Board of Governors for MCI - the corporate takeover

In the middle of all the packing and goodbyes, blogging is actually the last thing on my mind. But today I received a mail from a friend (who will remain uncredited until I have his permission to post this) about the new board of governors of the Medical Council of India which needed to be shared urgently. It is a sad reality that we face - the corporate sector has truly taken over the Indian medical system. And as always, it is likely that the poor will be left behind..............

For want of time to make my own comments and do my own research right now, I am reproducing his letter in full. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this issue which I hope to revisit sometime in the future.

Dear friends,
This is with regard to the constitution of the new Board of Governors for the Medical Council of India. Kindly note the following points -

1. The following are the new members - The new board, headed by Dr K K Talwar (former Director, PGI, Chandigarh), includes Prof K S Sharma from Tata Memorial Hospital, Prof Harbhajan Singh Rassam from Max Hospital, Dr Rajiv Chintaman Yeravdekar from Symbiosis International University and Dr Purushotham Lal, a chairman of Metro Hospital.

2. All of them excluding Dr Talwar are from the corporate sector, leaders in corporate health care (profit oriented health care), without experience in basic medical education or research.

3. Not even one person from the previous BOG has been included. This raises the issue of continuity of working of the new BOG.

4. 4 out of the 5 are superspecialists and 2 of them are cardiologists. I do not understand how this would help a public health and family practice oriented system of medical education is the crying need for the country.

5. Except Dr K K Talwar and Prof K S Sharma, I could not find any research material from any of the other members. I’m sure that you will understand how pathetic it is for our country to have a BOG for the supreme authority of medical education to have 3 of the members without any research paper.

6. The representation is very skewed to the North of the country. In fact 2 people are from Punjab and 2 from Maharashtra. I wonder how the whole of the rest of the country has been ignored.

7. Our country still in the grip of infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis etc; maternal and child health care in most parts of the country is still very poor – I have my serious doubts if these should be the members who should be deciding about the planning of medical education in India.

8. The last point is that one of the members, Dr Purushotham Lal had been accused of conducting unethical medical trials involving gene therapy in the past. I’m not sure of what the outcome of the inquiry was. Kindly see Kindly also see for more details of the members, the authenticity I’m not sure.

What we should have done is the following – Representation from the following -
1. Central Government Health Care institutions like the AIIMS, PGI-Chandigarh, SCTIMST-Trivandrum.
2. Medical Colleges – both private and public
3. Healthcare Research Institution
4. Public Health Institutions
5. Health Care NGOs including Faith based NGOs who have contributed immensely to health care in India.

I hope you would be able to raise this up with authorities in government you know. Please also forward it to whoever could facilitate to oppose this move from the Minister of Health.

Thanking you,

P.S. I have some reservations about point number 6. Being an idealist, I like to think that we are all Indians and try and leave it at that, forgetting regionalism as far as possible. Of course, I have burned my fingers with this attitude many a time!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Should I celebrate Osama's death?

As I ask myself this question, I know there is no easy answer. There is a part of me that is keen to celebrate the culmination of a 10 year search that has lead to 'justice' being done - at least in human terms. After all this man has committed a huge litany of terrible crimes, killing ordinary, innocent human beings with impunity, robbing so many of their parents, children, spouses and all in the name of a militant form of Islam that, as far as I know, is far removed from the true interpretation of the Quran. He has trained a generation of young radicals, many of whom are probably just like me, but who have been brainwashed into believing that dying in the act of killing others is the ultimate sacrifice. He has brought disaster on hundreds and thousands of Afghans and Pakistanis who have been killed in the name of the 'War on Terror' that the rest of the world has perpetrated ostensibly to catch this man. When all the time he was living in the lap of luxury in one of the safest and most upscale locations in Pakistan.

The story of bin Laden is an old one, one that has been played and replayed many times in the history of our planet. It is the story of a wily serpent, who used the resources and training that a great nation could provide and then, when the war was won, turned to bite the hand that fed him. I often wonder how things may have turned out if bin Laden had trained his sights on India and Kashmir. 26/11 may have been just a small fraction of the carnage this nation could have suffered and the rest of the world would have probably just made sympathetic noises and watched on. But in his foolishness, Osama chose to use his terror machine to strike at the heart of American capitalism. And therein was his doom. The fact that he survived the most intense and expensive manhunt this world has ever known, all the while reportedly battling severe health problems, is just a tribute to his amazing, though misplaced, capabilities.

There are thousands upon thousands whose lives have been profoundly affected by this man and his actions. And in some small way, their sorrow is our sorrow as the old wounds are reopened. And surely, for some, there will be a sense of closure, now that the man they had always looked upon as the chief architect of their pain, is gone. But when I saw the scenes of wild celebration, cheering and dancing that  played out on the streets of America, I felt a tad uncomfortable. Was that the right response to this event that has been on the cards ever since that fateful day when the twin towers came down? And it did not appear that many of those celebrating in this fashion had actually been personally affected by that tragedy, though of course, I may be wrong. In fact, all the family members of the victims who I saw interviewed seemed to have welcomed the news soberly, with a sense of relief that 'justice had been done'.

The 'War on Terror' has had many victims. And I believe our humanity and sense of brotherhood have been among those victims. The scenes of exuberant rejoicing may have been as repugnant to the many followers of this man throughout the world as the scenes of Palestinians rejoicing after 9/11. The world had an opportunity to send a message to the misguided young men who form the core of most terrorist organisations. That even at this time, we would not allow our baser instincts of winning and losing to take over and engage in impetuous chest-thumping. Rather, we would reach out to them and offer them a different way to resolve their problems, reacting, if not with love, then at least with dignity. But that opportunity seems to have been missed. And now we await the repercussions, though we pray fervently that there will be none.

As for me, I have to look on this whole saga as an outsider. Of course, as a citizen of this world, I believe that what affects my brother, wherever he may be, affects me. And yet, while I have watched with pain the unfolding drama over the years, I realise that for me, there has been no personal pain or anguish. My patriotic spirit was deeply wounded by the events of 26/11, but again, I suffered no personal loss. My heart goes out to those who have lost their loved ones through the crimes of Osama bin Laden and his ilk. It may not be possible for me to understand their pain or feelings at this time. But from my position as a relative outsider, I do not feel comfortable to celebrate the death of any man. Not Osama bin Laden. Not Ajmal Kasab. Not Saddam Hussein. Death is not to be celebrated especially when torment awaits. I guess I may be biased by the story of the death of one hardened criminal who was forgiven at his dying breath. By One who died with him. And for him.

And as to my dilemma, I think the quote (debatably attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.) which has been running around on Facebook is the best answer I can find - I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Monday, May 2, 2011

With blessings to William and Kate

For 3 days in the operation theatre, the TV was continuously blaring out the intricate details of the 'Royal' Wedding. This bothered me to some extent as my usual practice of catching an over or two of the IPL between cases was disrupted! I usually play the alpha male and change the channel to the cricket, but this time, I was completely outmatched, both in seniority and in number!! And so I was forced to listen to a varied array of newscasters and 'celebrities' giving their 'insights' into the marriage between Prince William and Kate Middleton. I guess before the start of all the hullabaloo, I was equivocal to the whole thing - a live and let live policy. So if 2 billion people wanted to watch a church service and all the various aspects connected with it, good for them!! But after 3 days of continuous bombardment, the rational part of my brain began to take slight umbrage at this nonsensical assault (or rather, assault of nonsense!). And I was amazed that more than a quarter of the earth's population was taken in by this massive reality show - so much so that some travelled across the world, others woke up at unearthly hours and (closer to home), staff of the hospital stayed back from work just to watch the goings-on in Westminster Abbey! I know that watching the cricket World Cup generated similar frenzy, but then, at least there was an element of patriotism and national pride thrown into the mix. I guess it was just pure entertainment - the word 'royal' seems to elicit a modicum of romance in our nature that excites us for some unknown reason. In fact, 2 IPL teams have the word 'royal' in their name and 2 others have the word 'king'!!

I mean no disrespect to the couple. I pray that God will bless them in their life together and enable them to use their immense popularity and stature to benefit the people of their country and the world. And I hear that inspite of all the pomp and show, they were able to convey an element of humanity and simplicity through their appearance and behaviour, which is a great start. In fact, I do feel a little sorry for them. They seem to be just another young couple looking for love and happiness together, but unfortunately, their whole lives in the future will be under terrible scrutiny - if for nothing else, to see if the 40 million pounds of taxpayers money and the immense amount of goodwill showered on them by the citizens of the world will be worth it after all. And as we have seen in the past, that kind of pressure can sometimes be counter-productive. If anything, they need our prayers....

Entertainment is generally a good thing. And if their wedding brought happiness, however short-lived, to 2 billion people, then I guess that William and Kate have done more than most of us will ever do in our lifetime! But there is a tinge of concern that rises within me. Have we misplaced our values and sense of proportion slightly in this media-driven world. Where our greatest entertainment comes from following closely and sometimes even aping the activities and lives of modern-day 'celebrities'. Celebrities whose claim to fame is usually not the content of their character and often, anything but! I sometimes wonder if we are choosing the wrong people as our idols. How our world might change if we would look to follow closely and learn from a different group of people. People who have found joy and passion in the service of others. Who personify simplicity and grace rather than pomp and show. For whom material and creature comforts are not always the be-all and end-all of life. One of whom was called Jesus Christ.

P.S. For a different (and less preachy!) take on the Royal Wedding from one of my friends, see here.
P.P.S - I didn't know 'preachy' was a word, but my spell-checker approved it!!