Bahadur The Braveheart

Bahadur has been with us for decades. No fuss, no nuances—he is no Jeeves, but our Man-Friday for sure.

Assisting the families of three brothers on three floors and managing no man’s lands, Bahadur is everyone’s favourite punching-bag. Not as stoic as Buddha, he takes it from all with equanimity—allowing just the right twitch to his left eyebrow.

He manages the garbage, grounds, and the grimaces. He drives us nuts, but doesn’t bolt; and produces the priceless screw n screwdriver just in time to overcome many a mini crises. Like feudals, we shout n clap “koi hai”, and Bahadur emerges from the shadows like the ghost who walks.

He has mastered the survival stratagems—he ducks, reflects, and deflects the blame-balls with aplomb. He has stood the tests of time, our idiosyncrasies, and bewildering behavior.

Time and trials have taught him when to take us for granted, and to play one against the other. His subterfuge is not subtle. Unsophisticated—unlike the city-born and bred—he  is often caught. But haven’t his small sins and cunning little leeways—albeit harmless—resulted from our own selfishness?

He has lived more of his life with our family than his own. He has played with our infants, seen children become adults, and witnessed young grow old—while his own hair has thinned, and temples turned grey. If ever he had dreamt, he had merged them into ours long ago.

We mess with him when he is around, and miss him when he is not. Like the “unhappily married for long”, we wouldn’t leave each other…Till death do us part. Caught between “Goodbye” and “I love you”, we retire to a corner and hum the mutual dilemma:

“Can’t live with or without you” (U2);

and

”Tere bina zindagi se koi shikwa to nahin…Tere bina zindagi bhi lekin zindagi to nahin” (Aandhi)

Bahadur

A Tale of Two Sisters

Puja in pink and Maya in red—are sisters. Puja joined us a few months back to look after Maa. Soon after, Maya—younger of the two—came to help my brother in household affairs.

From the bits and pieces that are thrown at me by Maa, I learnt—their father doesn’t earn anything, is a drunkard, and drowns in alcohol every last penny these sisters bring home. Puja and Maya are two among the six sisters—born in quick succession. The youngest is six, and the oldest—Puja—is 22. Their mother lives the nightmare created by her husband day and night.

I never ask them anything, lest i dent their dignity.

From what little I have observed, both are neat in their methods and manners. They are cheerful while working, at peace when resting, and carry themselves well. They don’t complain, but are straight forward.

Puja and Maya hug or have arms on each other’s shoulders whenever they meet. Naughty Maya has an attitude. Puja acts the elder sister.

When I returned from the office today, both had an earpiece each in their ears from the same mobile cord—talking to their mother. They accepted my request for their pic with grace, Maya managing to remain still for the shot.

These two sisters and the other four don’t know what the future holds for them. I don’t know about the other four, but Puja and Maya live each day as it comes.

Puja maintains a Diary…Perhaps writing what remains unsaid. Maya doesn’t…Perhaps she is weaving a fairy tale.

Puja & Maya

Driving Thoughts 2: Mind’s Traffic

The Mind’s Traffic

Mornings—body is fresh after the shave, shower, and scent; so is the rested mind. Day’s work doesn’t tire. But the crazy bumper to bumper evening traffic on the city’s high-street sags the shirt, spine n spirit. “Una paloma blanca…” on the radio exhorts, but I am unable to soar.

I negotiate the terrifying traffic despite the horns and holes, heat and dust, smoke and fumes, shouts and stares. I spend sixty chaotic minutes on the road before I hit home. I endure the daily grind. I am sure, most of you too.

This triggers my thoughts.

Why, at times, my mind gets caught in the cobwebs of confusion? Why my thoughts can’t steer clear of the diversions, delusions, and distractions? I handle the traffic on the road with aplomb and reach the destination always. Why can’t I master my mind’s traffic, and avoid the bumps, dumps, and slumps?

Why my mind’s eye can’t see the light?

Is it because I drive my car, but I allow others to drive my thoughts—hence life?

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay 

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We Are Strange

We act one way with the people of equal or higher social standing, and another way with the less fortunate ones.

We fight for and snatch the restaurant bill of thousands to have the privilege of paying it. We also fight with the rickshaw puller or a vegetable vendor over a Rupee.

Humans are strange. The overfed overfeed the overfed and underfeed the underfed. But at times, those who have less, give more.

Humans have double standards, Nature one. Nature only gives, never takes.

Nature doesn’t discriminate. It invites all to eat, drink, take, see, explore, enjoy—all that it has.

Nature teaches, but we never learn.

Nature has failed to change the human nature.

Pic: joshua earle-unsplash IMG_20200908_201545

Live Empty

In his book “Die Empty”, Todd Henry exhorts us to finish all that is most important to us, so that we have no regrets left when we die.

This put me to a thought—what about living empty? Can I live a life empty—empty of corruption, coercion, and cacophony?

Why do we allow people to corrupt our minds? Why do we let others to coerce us into doing things we don’t wish to? Why is that the cacophony always shuts our own voice?

The answers to my questions bred more questions. To get answers to the WHYs, we need to know the WHOs, WHATs, and WHEREs—the 3 Ws which weave us into woes.

What corrupts our minds? Who coerces us? Where from the cacophony comes?

I found simple answers. The culprits in each case are the authorities, or symbols and institutions of authority. Culprit is also our own slavery to the false and frivolous. They control, regulate, and mould our minds and lives. They rob us of our simplicity, free will, and joy of living.

Not all, but the worst among the society and its organs, the government and its myriad agencies, the religion and its various instruments, the hydra-headed politics, and the media in its traditional and modern avatars are these Whos, Whats, and Wheres.

Can we break free from their shackles? Bad news. In order to exist, we have to live with most of the monstrosities, including ourselves : )

I wonder whether we can try and choose the lesser evils. Can we select a lifestyle where the impact of the unwanted is minimal? Is it possible to create our comfort-cocoons where we can live the rare moments of joy and bliss?

To steal such moments, I have tried to let go—let go of the toxic, the negative, the nonsense.

I am able to let go when I cuddle the child in me, bring it out more often to play with me. The child in me, then, surrounds me.

In sunny winter mornings, I put my head on the dew kissed grass and leg up in the air, smile, and whistle the signature tune from the Clint Eastwood masterpiece: https://youtu.be/LdLQf1Ef9Ns

At such child, whistle, and leg-up moments, ‘The Good’ stays with me, ‘The Bad’ and ‘The Ugly’ leave.

These moments I live empty— free of cobwebs, clutters, and complexities… So empty, so light, so buoyant.

I live these empty moments every moment I want.

I think I can die empty if I live empty.

What do you think ?

Pics: “Live Empty” Moments

A Professor And A Gentleman

When I met Prof. Indu Mohan Das again in October 2021, and later wrote about him, I couldn’t  imagine he will leave us so soon. With heavy heart, I share below what I had written:

Prof. Indu Mohan Das has decency written all over him. Dignified and gentle, goodness reflects in his eyes and sits light on his shoulders.

Our association goes back to the 1980s when he was a Professor in the Physics Deptt., Gauhati University, and headed University Science & Instrumentation Center. We—at ‘Systems & Appliances’—were taking pioneering baby steps to introduce technology driven solutions from companies such as Wipro, Philips, and Tata in the region.

One winter morning, attired in a blue blazer and wearing a salesman’s hat, I knocked at his office door. This was my first meeting with Prof. Das, and after giving him product specifications, I requested him for a Purchase-Order with full advance payment—what cheek. He looked at me, smiled, and asked: “full advance?” I met his eyes and replied: “yes, full advance”. He signed the Order with a twinkle in his eyes. Business concluded, we sipped tea and talked of this and that. He said how good my tie looked; I returned the compliment about his moustache.

Remarkable this encounter was—he trusted the unknowns—me and my firm, at considerable risk. I doubted the University system to pay us on time; he didn’t doubt our intention. I realised he trusted me—a novice and much junior—because he himself is a man of integrity. We moved heaven and hell to deliver and install the ordered equipment in record time—we had to—to honour his trust in us.

With time, our professional relationship developed into mutual respect and friendship. I shifted to Bangalore. Prof. Das went on to become Dean, Science at the University and retired.

Over the years, the warmth of our friendship remains intact, the understanding never waned. I have been meeting him during some of my Guwahati visits. Yesterday I met him again. His adult son is wheelchair bound since childhood, and now he himself suffers from Parkinson’s—yet his spirit soars undiminished. Oh… How delighted he was to have me in his home. We joked and laughed, reminiscing about old times and old timers. He offered me a ‘Sandesh’—his affection so delicious, I had to have another one.

Elegant in looks, thoughts, and action—rare are men such as Indu Mohan Das.

Shadows Image: unsplash

When Hospitals Become The Disease.

Needed health sector regulator with teeth… Now.

14 years-old Prashant was in Delhi’s Batra Hospital for treatment of typhoid in April 2006. His condition worsened and he died in May. Prashant’s family alleged that he became brain dead in April itself, but the hospital did not inform and put “brain dead” boy on ventilator without family’s consent. The moment family ran out of funds, the hospital stopped ventilation. (timesofindia.indiatimes.com-24.06.2021).

There are hundreds of such hospital horror stories reported in the media. Besides ‘Covid Pandemic’, ‘Rape’, and ‘Murder’—the deafening headlines scream:

  • “Covid positive infant dies at hospital doorstep, mother cries for help” (indiatoday.in: 28.4.21);
  • “After Fortis, Medanta hospital in Gurgaon charges massive Rs. 16 lakh; 7-year-old dies” (financialexpress.com: 24.11.2017);
  • “5 year stay and a Rs. 6 cr. Bill: Bangaluru woman’s family blames hospital for her vegetative state” (News18: 30.1.2021)

“Hospitals have become a big industry instead of discharging their responsibilities to provide succour to distressed patients”—lamented Supreme Court (Times of India: July 20, 2021).

All hospitals are not guilty. But, when a strong health sector regulator is absent, the culprits remain unpunished. The rot continues and spreads.

State Of Affairs—Hospital  Or Hotspots Of Wrongdoings?

Many hospitals exploit by extending hospital stay for no reason. They shift patients to ICU, or put them on ventilators when not required. They hold patients or dead bodies hostage over payment issues. It’s akin to—skin the body, devour the flesh, then force the skeleton to give away its bones.

Many hospitals force doctors to prescribe unnecessary hospitalization, tests, and surgeries, and charge huge sums for these. Such hospitals don’t inform patients about their rights, line of treatment, or cost.

This institutionalised robbery ruins lives and shatters dreams. A fly caught in the spider’s web, the patient gets entangled in permanent poverty.

The Covid crisis of 2020 has proved how rotten the hospital system has become and how deep-rooted is the problem. There was nation-wide hue and cry about the products, processes, and prices related to Covid testing and treatment in the hospitals—a grim and gory story of organised loot.

 Affairs Of The State—Inadequate Laws, Implementing Agencies, and Budgets

Under pressure from public and media, authorities promise action against erring hospitals. But as seen in Covid cases last year, they issue mere warnings. This is as effective as putting band-aid on a fracture. Hospitals remain immune because both the regulating agencies and the laws are weak.

There are laws such as The Clinical Establishments Act, The Consumer Protection Act, and The Nursing Homes Act. But most states are not strict in implementing these laws.

There are governance bodies such as State Medical Councils (SMCs), Indian Medical Association (IMA), and National Medical Commission (NMC). But it is rare that these cancel an erring doctor’s or hospital’s registration, or take other legal action. These bodies exist to serve the hospitals and doctors. The Consumer Courts are not effective–they take long time in delivering judgments and lack expertise in health related technical matters.

According to Global Burden of Disease Study 2016, India ranked 145 out of 180 countries on access to healthcare. Ranking at 179th out of 189 countries, India has one of the lowest public healthcare budgets. According to Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development (OECD), the government healthcare spending in India was 1.3% of GDP in 2018. Compared to this, the average was 7.6% for OECD countries and 3.6% for other countries.

In 2021 India has increased the healthcare budget by 137%. This is in line with the “National Health Policy-2017” (NHP) target of 2.5% of GDP by 2025. But is too low considering the health sector’s numerous needs as well as multiple malpractices.

Remedy—Health Sector Reforms And A Powerful Regulator

Given the pathetic situation, the government has to usher in health sector reforms on priority as it has done in agriculture, labour, and education. The remedy lies in a comprehensive health law. And the states must be strict in implementing it in private as well as government hospitals. If states don’t enforce health laws, bringing healthcare under Concurrent List of Constitution is an option.

Government can create competition for private hospitals by building AIIMS-like health institutions in every state. These will become the first choice for patients, doctors, and other health workers.

If hospitals act in illegal and unfair manner, the government has the power to suspend or cancel their licences. Other measures are to impose exemplary financial penalties, and name and shame them. Government can force hospitals to have patient grievance cells for speedy redressal.

It is crucial to have a hospital monitoring and evaluation system based on their track record of ethical operations. Setting up Medical Tribunals and appointing Health Ombudsmen will give speedy justice to patients.

To put these reforms in place, a strong health sector regulator with punitive powers is a must. Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has reformed the insurance sector to a great extent. Other examples are: Real Estate Regulatory Authority (RERA) and Securities & Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The government can take a cue from the Quality and Outcomes Framework (QOF)-2004 created by the National Health Service (NHS), U.K.

In India, regulatory enforcement is critical because patients themselves finance either the entire or a large portion of the treatment cost. Also, not everyone has medical insurance, and the insurance doesn’t cover every medical problem.

Section 14.2 of the NHP emphasises the necessity to regulate the clinical establishments. It also recommends setting up of an empowered medical tribunal for quick justice to patients. In Section 28, the NHP recognises that “A policy is only as good as its implementation”. It provides for a robust independent mechanism to ensure adherence by public and private hospitals.

The Economic Survey 2020-21 too recommended a healthcare regulator considering that:

(a) the bulk of healthcare delivery in India is through the private sector, and

(b) whereas the treatment is very costly in the private hospitals, its quality is not very different from the government hospitals.

The Road Ahead

We are at the end of 2021 but the government is yet to create the regulatory set-up based on its policy framed way back in 2017. There is dishonourable monetization of disease, disability, and dignity. An independent regulator with powers of exemplary punishment is the answer.

Health is a very basic need. It has a multiplier impact on citizens’ well-being and nation’s development. Human greed doesn’t care for decency in dealings or for health and life. The government must not allow malpractices in hospitals. We need a regulator with teeth and the power to bite… We need it now.

The edited version of this article was published in The Assam Tribune on 19th November, 2021, as below:

AT Mast 2When Hospital Become The Disease-Narendra Sarawgi-19.11.21

Do Nice People Finish Last?

Do nice people finish last?

It seems so. Being good, fair, and decent to others—we end up being bad, unfair, and indecent to ourselves. If we are good, people take us for granted—they push, pull, and impose. It works at a subliminal level and expresses itself in overt and covert commands and controls.

At home, at work, in public places, or in social situations, nice people suffer. You don’t break the cinema ques and traffic rules, but others do—you end up not getting the ticket and getting stuck in a jam. We offer a seat to the elderly, but others usurp ours.

Does it cost us anything to be socially sensitive, nuanced, and not embarrass people—can’t we avoid laughing or looking deep into their eyes when they commit a faux pas?

This raises questions about the civility of the people from an ancient civilization—about our character and ethos.

This brings us to another question—what happens to the rare breed of nice people surrounded by the unthoughtful, unconcerned, uncooperative majority?

We often see that goodness doesn’t pay. But life is not all about transactions. Call it courtesy or one’s methods and manners—it’s the innate decency in one’s character. What counts is the way we think, behave, and live when no one is looking. It’s the difference between being pseudo-nice on social media vs being nice in real life—when there is none to send us ‘likes’. The choices we make affect the choices of others.

Nice guys, at times, finish last… Still, it’s nice to be nice.

Pic: How light n lit up I felt when i met someone nice yesterday

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Crazy Cozy Corners

I am crazy about cozy corners.

In Sujangarh home, I spent hours sitting in a cute little window. While devouring boondiya-bhujiya* in its lap, I was spell-bound by street’s sights, sounds, and smells– foaming camels, fighting dogs, and farting horses.

In Guwahati home, I captured a small low-height room in the middle of stairs (‘duchhati’) and was quick to name it “Niru’s Nest”, lest someone else lay claim to it. This was my nest during college and university days and nights, though I laid no eggs here. Friends frequented it, parents avoided it. Here I taught ‘Break-Even Analysis’ to Bimal Patni ; and here I learnt about break-heart stories of many.  Though we still have to go up to it, today it is a ‘godown’.

In Bangalore home, I made a tiny heaven surrounded by books. Here I could see, smell, touch, and feel books… I lived with books—some which I read long ago, few which I have read over and over again, and some I am yet to open. This flirting is life-long, the charm and the romance remain undiminished.

My love affair with cozy indoors—such as captivating coupes in trains—continues. If I find none, I create one. June 2021—I found myself back in Guwahati, and I lost no time in carving a niche Study in the ground floor drawing room. The wooden contraption—which supported the wash-basin in my parent’s bathroom—became my work-table. The massive painting –which Bapuji* had insisted upon buying in Bangalore—gives relief to my laptop-tired eyes but agitates my tranquil nerves. The curves of the long abandoned ebony- black ‘Film-Fair’ lady and the recently grown grass-green plant on my desk compete with each other—my  imagination runs riot.

This love for small indoors contrasts with my love for vast outdoors—the abundant nature—the sprawling seas and meadows; the rising mountains and trees; the endless horizon and skies; the infinite space and time…

This puts me to a thought—confined in their cozy captivity, the heart can be limitlessly large and the mind can be immeasurably big.

*Boondiya-Bhujiya: Sweet & sour Indian snacks; * Bapuji: Father

Pics: Foaming Camel; Door to Niru’s Nest; The one with painting says it all.

Story of Our Stories

“I am me”—I shout from the rooftops. But am I? Since everyone claims to be himself, I am no different.

Somebody, everybody, or nobody—we are all storytellers. We tell stories about others and about ourselves. And we colour those stories, we paint pictures—as we want or imagine. Whereas we can’t twist others’ stories beyond a point, we have a field day with our own.

The narcissist in me loves myself. I repeatedly tell myself and others about myself. And I put chosen stories within my story—to showcase what I wish to. This creates ‘me’ I want to see and to be seen. This imaginary ‘me’ takes over the real me, my life, times, and relationships.

Layer upon layer, we weave fantasies to display an identity that is phoney and false—at least in parts. We select or discard the realities, the essentials, and the history which have shaped us. Our subjective interpretations and biases change our person, persona, and personality.

We become the stories we keep repeating about ourselves to ourselves and to others. How we project ourselves in our stories could be very different from what we are. It’s easy to convince and deceive ourselves that the situations and people have forced us to be what we are not.  

Becoming crafty while crafting our stories, we plant prejudices and embed distortions. We ask our stories to tell us what we wish to hear. As we believe in the make believe, we become what we pretend. So we make the stories or stories make us? These stories coax, cajole and compel us to think, believe, and act in the way we portray our characters in these stories. 

At times we make stories of others our own. We become other people—living a vicarious life of sham and show. As Oscar Wilde wrote: ‘’Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.’’

How do we overcome illusions and delusions? How do we quit living in paradoxes and frameworks of fakery? We can begin by telling our genuine story to ourselves. Telling others is optional, for others sense our truth sooner or later. To twist Huxley’s words—there are things said and things unsaid, and in between are the doors of perception. The world knows the story of our stories.

Image: ClipcartKey

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