Posts Tagged ‘K. Javeed Nayeem’

English or Kannada? Does the State know better?

9 May 2014

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K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The recent judgement of our apex court striking down the appeal of our State government to make primary education in the mother-tongue compulsory has attracted both flak and appreciation from citizens’ groups and citizens depending on which side of the fence they stand.

What we should understand here is that the education of our children is a very personal matter in which all decisions are best left to the parents.

The State even with the help of experts in the field of education, who claim to have based their conclusions on studies, however extensive, cannot simply declare that it is easier for children to gain their education if their learning process is started in their respective mother-tongues when the experience of their parents is different.

In fact, these experts cannot claim to be more knowledgeable than most parents like me who have themselves studied in English medium schools and whose children have followed in their footsteps very comfortably.

My parents who had studied in their mother-tongue like millions of others thought it sensible to put all their children into English medium schools simply because they felt out of their personal experience that it was a better path than the one they had trod.

It is only because of this simple realisation that generations of parents in the past have taken great pains and have gone to great lengths, relocating themselves from villages and small towns to cities, often jeopardizing their occupations and livelihoods, just to enable their progeny to get a firm foothold on the most useful education.

Thanks to the proliferation of good schools even in the remotest reaches of our State today, this exodus is no longer necessary.

While I have seen dozens of cases of parents transplanting their children from mother-tongue medium schools to English medium schools, I am yet to come across someone who has thought it wise to do the opposite. When this is the case, can assumptions that come out of a few years of academic research rival the learning that comes out of generations of experience?

If research is the gold standard for determining what is good and bad for us, why do most educated and enlightened parents move heaven and earth during the school admission season year after year, standing in long queues, braving not only the sun by day but even the chill by night, before the gates of English medium schools?

Why are these schools proliferating like mushrooms after a good monsoon, while mother-tongue medium schools are going abegging for students and shutting shop in despair, unable to sustain themselves against the tide?

Before we shout ‘unfair’ at what is happening in our society we should pause for a while to ponder. To ask ourselves if this monstrously overwhelming majority of parents, desperate to give their children an English medium education can all be wrong?

What we all need is a good and useful education that while giving sustenance to our children does not kill the language of our State. This can be ensured by paving the way for education in the English medium for all those who clamour for it with a strict stipulation that the language of the State, Kannada in our case, is compulsorily taught throughout the entire schooling process, without any exception.

The State government should be satisfied if the importance of the language of the State is not undermined in any of the schools on its soil and the so-called experts if they so desire, making the best use of their wisdom, can get their kith and kin to study in their mother-tongues.

Most people who are now advocating a return to education in the mother-tongue are the ones who have never tasted the fruits of a firmly grounded education in the English medium. If the others think that ‘English medium delayed is English medium denied,’ what is wrong with it?

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: A view of the meeting of the great and the good in the Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore, on Friday, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court judgment on the medium of instruction for class 1 to IV. (Karnataka Photo News)

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Also read: Should NRN open world Kannada conference?

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Yedi is fiddling when namma naadu is burning

Do our netas, parties really care about education?

When will our kids start questioning? Don’t ask

 

7 steps to protect your life and limb at an ATM

22 November 2013

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K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The recent attack on a lady ATM user in Bangalore was a most heinous crime that sent shock waves across our society because of the impact of the live visuals which everyone saw on television.

Thankfully, the lady’s life does not seem to be in danger although she is likely to take a long time to get over the trauma of the very brutal assault, both physically and mentally. Her helplessness and vulnerability seem to have galvanised our government into some action.

But the news that the home minister has ordered all ATMs in the State to be manned by armed guards within three days seemed like a rather tall order to me. Knowing the government’s propensity to always bite off more than it can actually chew I was not very surprised.

In fact, I was expecting an order just like this going by the very predictable knee-jerk responses we see from the administrative machinery always and only after a disturbing incident.

That is why two buses had to burn and kill more than 50 helpless passengers in less than two weeks before we realised that the rather cosmetic emergency exits are no good in a real emergency. Now arrangements are being made to render our buses much safer and their operations perhaps a little saner.

Arranging armed guards for the thousands of ATMs in the State is an impossible task even in three months let alone in three days, unless our Police force itself takes over the responsibility which again is an impossibility. Armed guards do not come cheap even by the dozen and I do not think anyone can mobilise so many arms and trained men to handle them at short notice.

Although many banks these days have their own weapons and trained personnel to wield them, most of the armed security guards we see around banks, ATMs and in currency transporting vans are ex-servicemen with their own licenced weapons who make a living in their retirement.

They take up this vocation as it matches the kind of work they are used to and because of their excellent training and background, arms licences are issued to them a little liberally than to other ordinary people. So after having realised its mistake in just one day the government has diluted its own orders to posting only guards minus the arms.

Even such guards cannot be procured in a hurry and therefore if the present recommendations of the government are implemented both in letter and spirit we will see many ATMs being shut down by night or even by day for want of guards. And, the situation is likely to remain so till enough guards are recruited and deployed which will understandably take much time.

The new arrangement will now mean having a man, able-bodied or otherwise, near every ATM in attire that looks like a uniform. Still, this is better than nothing as it means having someone there who if successfully and sufficiently woken up from his sleep before one enters the ATM can at least keep a watch over the movements of any suspicious looking characters hovering in the vicinity.

Although our ATMs have many defects from the security point of view, providing adequate security alone is not the complete answer to the problems one faces at them.

People who use them too should exercise some caution based on common sense to ensure their own safety.

I see many people walking into secluded ATMs in pitch dark surroundings at unearthly hours with mobile phones glued to their ears and drawing money without the slightest attention to their own safety. Let alone a lady, even the burliest of men can be rendered completely helpless by just two hoodlums when he is completely immersed in his phone conversation and the ATM operation.

Just because cash is available round-the-clock at ATMs one should not visit them at very odd times unless it is an unforeseen emergency.

If we know that we need cash on a particular day the visit to the ATM can be planned during much safer hours.

When there is a choice, people should try to visit ATMs at busy places like Railway Stations and bus stands if there is urgent need for cash late in the night or early in the morning even if it means a slightly longer drive from home. And at these times it is always better if two or more individuals make the trip so that someone can keep a watch outside while one draws the cash.

Visitors to ATMs in cars should lock their vehicles while they draw cash to ensure that someone does not creep into the rear seat and spring a surprise on them later.

All ATMs should mandatorily have high resolution CCTV surveillance both inside and outside to ensure that the identity of the users is clearly recorded for identification later if necessary.

The shutters of all ATMs should have an arrangement by which they can be locked in the open position allowing them to be closed only by authorised personnel. This can be done by just welding a shackle to the beam above and therefore it should be the first safety measure to be implemented.

The positioning of the machine itself is faulty in most of the kiosks as the user has to operate it without being able to watch the entrance even with his or her peripheral vision. If they are placed sideways they become much safer.

Otherwise a large mirror if installed on the rear wall will ensure this without any major alterations to existing ATMs. A very loud alarm that can attract the attention of passersby, with its button prominently and conveniently placed next to the screen will be an added advantage.

Closing down ATMs for want of guards will only be a retrograde move as it defeats the very purpose of having them and this proposal needs a rethink from a practical point of view. Until we have much safer ATMs, people should be educated to use them with adequate care and caution to ensure their own safety while enjoying the convenience they offer.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: courtesy IBN

Also read: When an ATM stands for anything but money

The ATM generation that is banking Anna Hazare

When an ATM stands for Any Thing but Money

8 November 2013

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: These days we have been having a spate of serial government and bank holidays.

Last month it was because of the Dasara coinciding with Bakrid which also happened to be holding hands with Maharshi Valmiki Jayanthi across just one working day in between. This month it was because of Rajyotsava coinciding with Diwali, with the Naraka Chaturdasi and Balipadyami sitting astride on either side of a Sunday.

The net result of such coincidences is that an already non-working government hardly gets to work and banks which have now left most of their work to computers and ATMs, simply leave customers’ needs to fate. And, as we all know, fate is usually very unkind.

It is a very well-known fact that in our country, even on normal working days, most of the ATMs do not work satisfactorily.

But on occasions of serial holidays like what we saw very recently they are completely useless. Except for the very rich, for most ordinary people, a savings bank account is a safe place to keep their hard-earned money and draw it in time of dire need. This is what the ATM service is supposed to ensure.

But I have seen anxious and upset people running from one ATM to another outside banking hours, trying to squeeze some cash out of them in vain.

Just to test how futile this exercise is I decided to draw just Rs 10,000 last month during Dasara time. My quest led me through seven ATMs before the one at the main branch of the State Bank of Mysore yielded fruit.

This month, during the extended Diwali holidays, to test the system once again, I repeated the same exercise in a journey that took me across 14 ATMs from N. R. Mohalla, Bannimantap, Ashoka Road, Medical College, Railway Station, Yadvagiri, Jayalakshmipuram to Gokulam.

After this most interesting odyssey I was able to squeeze cash from four different ATMs only in Rs 100-notes to get my Rs 10,000. For me this marathon was interesting just because I was not really in need of any money but was only on a voyage of discovery.

The messages that greeted me ranged from a blank and unresponsive screen to ‘off line’, ‘out of order’, ‘unable to dispense cash’, ‘this card is not valid’, ‘unable to read card’ and ‘try a lesser amount’.

When I decided to obediently follow the last bit of advice at four ATMs, I had to go on lowering my request like a beggar who solicits money for a meal from a not-so-generous giver, until they agreed to give me a maximum of Rs 500 each. And, it was not anybody else’s but my own hard-earned money that I was asking for and thankfully it was not for a meal.

I have had such exasperating experiences with a non-performing debit card or an empty or non-functioning ATM despite a full bank account, that I now never enter a hotel or buy anything from a shop unless I have sufficient cash in my wallet to pay the bill.

Armed thus, I then pay by card, keeping the cash aside to bail me out of a potentially embarrassing situation. At petrol stations I first swipe the card and then proceed to get my tank filled only after a successful transaction.

Although a letdown at an ATM is a fairly common experience in our country it is almost a rarity abroad. I have not had any problems whatsoever while drawing money from any ATM anywhere outside the country during any of my visits abroad although all my bank accounts were local with international debit card facility.

Even during the more than a month- long Haj pilgrimage, which is an occasion where nearly 40 lakh people congregate at one place, I never ever experienced any problem at any ATM. And, the Haj is without doubt, the largest congregation of people in the world which imposes the heaviest load on banking services, with people thronging ATMs wherever they are.

In many countries customers are compensated if they are put to even the slightest inconvenience due to any malfunctioning of banking services. But here in India the customer who is ironically called ‘king’ till he opens the bank account always comes last in any service providing situation and nobody seems to be bothered to set this shameful position right.

When an ATM fails to work and when you approach the bank located just alongside it for help, you are curtly told that since ATMs are serviced and replenished by an outside agency they can do nothing to help. This is so even if you happen to have an account in the very same branch.

At the most they advise you to call the toll-free number given at the ATM which usually remains unresponsive thus exacting a heavy toll on your nerves.

The result is that in an emergency, one cannot completely depend on an ATM to bail himself or herself out against an urgent need for ready cash.

Despite this sorry state of affairs our banks continue to discourage transactions at their cash counters and encourage people to obtain debit cards and draw cash through ATMs.

Is this not then just a ploy to remain indolent and lazy?

Day by day our banking services are only getting more and more expensive for customers without any visible improvement in the quality of the service that they provide. It is now reliably learnt that from the coming year the rents on safe deposit lockers are likely to be almost doubled with the stipulation that not more than two free operations will be allowed per month. All additional operations are likely to be charged.

When it is the customers’ money on which it thrives, should our banking system not care to ensure some minimum standards for the services it is supposed to provide?

Since ATMs are controlled by a central server, is it not possible to monitor cash withdrawal patterns and ensure adequate and prompt replenishment?

And in the event of a series of holidays coming in a row, why is it not possible to keep this refilling system going even if the banks themselves are closed?

But all this needs a will. A will to give ourselves a better and a more dignified life. Until then our ATMs, will simply remain a modern-day bane and continue to dispense Any Thing but Money.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Another petty ending to a ‘world-famous’ Dasara

19 October 2013

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K. JAVEEN NAYEEM writes: No you have not read me wrong and I have not made a mistake in what I have written. I did say ‘petty’ and not ‘pretty’. This year’s Dasara may have been a pretty show especially with its new eco-friendly, LED lighting which stood out as something uniquely different from what we had all seen in the past.

But I cannot help feeling that this year it also became a festival of petty squabbling.

Yes, it was nothing but that, between politicians and bureaucrats, between the real power-keepers and Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wodeyar, the virtual symbol of royal power and between the Kavadis, the elephant-keepers, and the administration which owns the elephants.

Just before the grand finale this year, there was an ugly and much publicised stand-off between our elected representatives on one side and the deputy commissioner and the police commissioner on the other, over the issue of free passes. I can only say that these kinds of confrontations look very undignified and amount to washing very dirty linen in full public view and media glare.

Issues like these should be settled and sorted out in some official privacy well in time without finding a mention in the press.

In a show with limited seating capacity I do not see why hordes of supporters of politicians should be given free access to have a ringside view while all those who elect them to power are denied a decent seat despite paying through their noses to have it reserved. I agree that in a ‘you scratch my back and I will scratch yours’ set-up there is nothing much one can do to get rid of such despicable things but there has to be a limit to this kind of madness.

Politicians should make it known to their fans that too many free passes will only deprive access to that many guests and therefore this kind of largess cannot be accommodated beyond a reasonable measure.

It is a very well-known fact that year after year we find many holders of VIP Passes and even Gold Cards arriving at the torch light parade venue only to find their seats already occupied by gate-crashers who simply refuse to vacate them despite intervention by the police personnel.

I have myself seen many foreign tourists simply going away in disgust at not being able to get any assistance from the officers who are posted there to prevent such occurrences. Such incidents will only give much negative publicity that only negates our efforts to popularise our Dasara across the globe.

Many mega-events similar to our Dasara are held all over the world every year but we do not see the slightest disorder in the way they are conducted. It is time we learnt to maintain some semblance of order here too. But now this remark of mine should not mean that we should immediately dispatch a delegation to study how it is done there!

A thing that we have been seeing regularly over the past few years is the sulking of the scion of the royal family. By either refusing to allow public display of the royal throne or lending the golden howdah for the procession, he behaves like an over-pampered child who craves for attention knowing very well that these two artefacts are required for the Dasara every year.

Although we have all heard of elephants having tantrums, these days we have been noticing their keepers too being afflicted by this malady. The mahouts and kavadis now regularly resort to arm-twisting tactics to get some extra attention and perks during the Dasara which is the only time when they can flaunt their importance. This is nothing but blackmail.

Knowing that their job is unique in that the government simply cannot find substitutes to manage the elephants which are indispensable symbols of the Mysore Dasara, they choose to go on a strike for the silliest of reasons like not being allowed into the palace grounds through a particular gate.

All this, despite our government bowing down to really comic levels to keep their ego flying high, like getting the State health minister himself to massage their backs or the district-in-charge Minister to serve them food while the media covers and comments on everything they do like having their haircuts and baths before the final day.

While it takes people from many other professions like carpenters, gardeners, sweepers, painters, drivers, tailors, folk artistes and policemen to make the Dasara possible, I wonder why only the mahouts, kavadis and their children should get all the attention and special treatment?

It is time someone made them understand that as paid government employees it is their duty to see that they work cheerfully in a spirit of mutual co-operation with all others.

We all take pride in calling the Dasara a ‘world famous festival’ and yet no one responsible for showcasing it thinks of providing its telecast a proper English commentary in at least one channel for the benefit of all the non-Kannadigas who watch the show on the television or the net.

Although many channels relayed the footage of the Dasara procession and the commentators repeatedly drew attention to the fact that the show was being watched live round the world, not a single one of them thought it proper to provide even subtitles in English.

Should we not ensure that the millions of non-Kannadiga viewers too understand what is happening when they are shown the different activities related to the festival and what the different tableaux and troupes in the procession represent? As hosts of Dasara festivities should we not ask ourselves if we can afford to be so indifferent to the needs of others whom we invite as our guests at the grandest and the biggest festival of our State?

(K. Javeen Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore where the full version of this piece appeared)

Photograph: A stilt-walker at the Dasara procession on the final day of Dasara 2013 in Mysore (Karnataka Photo News)

Also read: What is so “world-famous” about Mysore Dasara?

Once upon a time, at Gulbarga railway station

6 October 2013

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K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: On the day I left Gulbarga for good, upon completion of my studies and internship, I rode to the railway station from my room on my bicycle. To make things easier for me, my friends had taken my luggage in a cycle-rickshaw a little earlier and were waiting for me on the platform.

As I entered the platform and approached them I saw uniformed men of the Police Band standing in formation a little distance away. Before I could ask someone the reason for this, one of my friends told me that an important Police Officer was arriving by the train and the band was there to receive him.

The train soon arrived and we waited for the alighting passengers to get down before I could board it. But I saw no sign of any VIP getting down which seemed rather strange.

All my friends loaded my luggage into the compartment and expecting the train to start any moment, when I started bidding farewell to them, they asked me to get down with them for a moment, which I did.

All of a sudden there was the sound of crackers bursting and as if on this cue the Police Band started playing and to my utter confusion and consternation my friends grabbed me and tossed me into the air in a series of bumps.

All the people on the platform and in the train were as confused as I was over this unexpected commotion when the station master, S. Tuppadauru accompanied by the chief ticketing clerk Sunder Raj arrived on the scene.

While for a brief moment I thought that they had come to discharge their official duties and disperse the boisterous group of medicos, the station master shook my hand vigorously and congratulated me on becoming a doctor while Sunder Raj thrust a peda into my mouth, stifling any word of protest from me.

Ghani, the over-aged porter who had always carried my luggage over the last six years of my stay at Gulbarga appeared on the scene from somewhere with his toothless grin and garlanded me before bowing down to grab my feet.

Before I could dislodge him in embarrassment, Khan, the canteen contractor who used to always make the bread toast and omelettes to the perfection that I expected, during every one of my visits to his joint over the years, grabbed me in a rib-cracking bear hug.

Very soon Pandurang, the postman, Rajanna, my dhobie and Syed, my errand boy were there too, holding back their tears behind their smiles.

I am not a person given to shedding tears easily but on that occasion I simply could not hold them back. I never expected that I would get such a warm and emotional farewell from so many people after my six-year stay at a place which many people here had warned me would be comparable to hell.

A few bits and pieces of memorabilia from my past may be of interest here.

Sunder Raj the ever-smiling chief ticketing clerk I have mentioned served at the Gulbarga railway station for many years and he was one of the most obliging persons I have seen in my life. He would somehow manage to find and arrange a berth or at least a seat on all the out-going trains for all the medical and engineering students who had to go home at short notice in an emergency.

On the few occasions when he failed in his efforts he would accompany them to the compartment and request the TTEs to make some arrangement to see that they travelled in safety and comfort. And, all this he did without expecting anything in return except a smile.

Whenever anyone exhibited even the faintest trace of anxiety or impatience, his stock phrase was “zara aaram se, zara aaram se. Hojayega,” without the slightest hint of irritation.

I discovered during a subsequent visit to Gulbarga that Ghani, the porter died a few years after I left the place and now his son Haneef has donned the red shirt, toiling on the same platform. Khan is no more too but his family still runs the canteen at Gulbarga station as it has been doing over the many years before I went there.

The Raleigh bicycle I rode all through my high schooldays into medical college and out of it was bought for me by my father from a small bicycle shop just then opened by his cousin Umar at Aldur, our native village in Chickmagalur District.

It came to Mysore in a semi-knocked down state riding in the boot of our Dodge car to be immediately assembled by my father in a night-long job to meet my expectation and exuberance of riding it to school the very next day.

On the day I rode it into St. Philomena’s College for my PUC I was approached near the cycle stand by a puny man in a torn shirt and a once white dhoti who offered to engrave my name on its handle bar for a rupee.

I immediately agreed to the proposal and before the slightest risk of my changing my mind I saw him hammering away with a tempered steel nail and a flat iron bar. In almost no time at all I saw my name adorning my bike in beautiful flowing letters. I praised his workmanship and found out that he was Subramani from Chickmagalur.

He in turn was happy that I too was from his place and he offered to engrave my name on my fountain pen for just twenty-five paise. Now, before he could change his mind I placed my still unused blue ‘Mendoz’ pen which I had bought the previous evening for seven rupees, in his hand.

I was so fascinated by his deftness that I started meeting him every morning at the cycle stand to watch him at work on other students’ bikes and pens. Not satisfied with just watching Subramani at work, I started practicing his art at home with a set of self-made engraving tools much to the chagrin of my parents who felt that I was wasting precious time on useless pursuits.

But I soon discovered that I had a knack for this work too and continued perfecting it. Soon after my marriage, when my wife and I started our life together in a story-book rural hospital on the desolate edge of ‘Veerappan Territory’ I managed to make her very happy by engraving her name on all the pots and pans we bought!

This only goes to show that none of the ‘useless’ things we learn as we go along in life are completely useless! They rarely go waste and even if they do not earn us any money they certainly may earn us much admiration.

And, if this admiration happens to come from someone we admire, the effort certainly becomes supremely worthwhile!

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where a longer version of this piece appeared)

Photograph: courtesy Wikipedia

‘Send Javeed Train Waiting Pemmaiah Unwell’

19 July 2013

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The Telegram, perhaps the longest serving mode of communication we have had next to the post, has finally been laid to rest in our country amid much mourning.

I wonder where else it has met a similar fate because I am sure many other countries too would have considered it unworthy of living in the present era which perhaps is the acme of the communication revolution that the world has been seeing over the past two decades.

Much has been written in the print media over the past few days by way of epitaphs and nostalgic recollections of the telegraphic era and I do not wish to repeat the same here. I shall therefore only tell my readers what the telegram meant to me when it mattered to me most in my younger days.

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The earliest memory of the telegram I have is of the news of my sister being born in Mysore which was conveyed to my father who was then at our coffee estate in Chickmagalur.

I was then four years old and as soon as he arrived in Mysore, we went to see her.

I took one look at her lying in a tiny crib next to my mother’s cot in the Mission hospital where I was born too and promptly announced to my parents that we could keep her with us just for a few days and then return her to the hospital.

My father to avoid the germination of any sibling rivalry, quickly assured me that we would do just that as soon as we took her for a quick tour of our estate, to which I reluctantly agreed. I did not know then that it was I and not she who was destined to go out of the house, just three months later to commence my long education process!

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I was so fascinated by the speed with which it had once yielded results in summoning my father from so far away that I would now regularly throw tantrums and order that it be sent immediately on similar missions whenever I hurt my little finger or felt hurt that I had not come first in the class running race!

It was a different matter that I would invariably be very successfully placated with just a toffee and told that a telegram had been sent and the delay in seeing its expected result would invariably be attributed to disrupted lines due to bad weather and fallen trees near its destination which was not an infrequent occurrence in the Malnad areas.

As I grew up the telegram suddenly started playing a more important role than summoning my dad.

Until then whenever the holidays started my father under prior telegraphic intimation would send our estate manager and his most trusted lieutenant P.M. Pemmaiah to Mysore to take me to our estate.

He would arrive by bus from Chickmagalur and because I liked travelling by train more than by bus, take me by the first morning train to Hassan where my dad, his elder brother K. A. Sathar and their best friend Muthu Rao would be waiting at the railway station in a 1947 army disposal olive green Jeep to receive us.

From there we would head straight to the Modern Café for my favourite Masala Dosa and Jamoon before heading away towards Chickmagalur.

***

One day when I was expecting my escort Pemmaiah to arrive, most unexpectedly we received a second telegram that read “SEND JAVEED TUESDAY TRAIN WAITING HASSAN PEMMAIAH UNWELL”. When my grandfather read it out with an anxious expression on his face and explained what it meant, my joy knew no bounds.

I immediately rejected my uncle, Prof. M. J. Sadiq’s suggestion that he would accompany me up to Hassan, although it was unanimously supported and seconded by all elders as they all felt that I was too young to travel alone.

I promised and swore that I would be a very good boy on that day and also on all days to come thereafter and would never put my hands or head out of the windows or get down from the train, come what may, except at Hassan.

But opposition was intense and the elders relented only after I declared that I would not eat anything or go unless I was allowed to do it on my own. And, I did it.

To the little boy that I was then, that was the greatest journey of my life and I cherish its memory to this day. The 75 miles I did in just five hours is a world record for me and the greatest part about it is no one in the world can break it now!

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where a longer version of this piece appeared)

Photograph: courtesy Christian Science Monitor

The diabetes mega scam MSM won’t talk about

30 June 2013

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K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Last week, a relative called me up when I was in the middle of my practice to ask me if I knew that the anti-diabetic drug I had been treating his wife with had been banned by the Indian government, according to a newspaper report he was reading.

Surprised that I had no wind of this development from the two morning dailies I had just finished reading, I switched to the online edition of his newspaper to discover that what he had informed me was indeed true.

***

Our country with a conservatively estimated population of over a hundred crore now has a population of about ten crore diabetics.

If you are stunned by this figure I am not surprised as it certainly appears very huge. But with the incidence of diabetes, conservatively estimated again, to be between seven and nine per cent of the population, that is exactly what it translates to.

Now, at least 30 per cent of these ten crore diabetics are being treated or would have been treated sometime sooner or later in their lives with a drug called Pioglitazone which is one of the very potent anti-diabetic drugs available almost all over the world in any doctor’s armamentarium.

This is the drug that was being used as the last resort when all else failed to control the disease, before recommending Insulin injections which most patients understandably dread, both because of the pain and the cost.

This was a drug that had some very unique beneficial properties, the most important one being its ability to reduce the development of insulin resistance in the body. It was therefore a very good add-on drug that would also help in reducing the dose of insulin required to bring the blood sugar levels down.

This drug was also capable of reducing the levels of Triglyceride, one of the bad Cholesterols in the blood that can increase the risk of heart attacks. But like almost every other drug this drug too was said to be potentially capable of sometimes causing some serious side effects which notably were almost unheard of in Indian patients.

I have been treating almost a third of my diabetic patients with it over the past 12 years of its existence in India and I have never come across even a single patient who developed any of the serious side effects.

And, I have never come across any of my fellow doctors, including exclusive diabetologists who have encountered them in their practices.

Most importantly, it was also a drug that was indigenously manufactured and therefore cheaply available across the length and breadth of the country and this perhaps was what sounded its death knell in our poor nation.

***

Just a few years ago there appeared on the medical horizon a new class of drugs called the Gliptins, developed and manufactured overseas, by seething rich pharma giants under strong and strict patents.

They were touted as the miracle molecules that could revolutionise the treatment of diabetes by obviating the need to use insulin and were hastily thrust, at an astronomical cost, into almost all the third-world countries, including India which could ill afford them.

Imagine even a well-to-do diabetic patient having to take tablets costing around forty to forty five rupees every day, life-long.

How many Indians can afford this kind of treatment for themselves when there are many other things to do for the rest of their family members with their hard-earned money?

Most importantly, despite aggressive marketing these newer drugs simply failed to even make a tiny dent in the management of diabetes because they simply failed to live up to what was expected of them by way of their efficacy.

So all those who stood to lose heavily after breeding and backing the wrong horses had to quickly do something to rein in their losses.

***

There is a sentence in Wilbur Smith’s novel of the same name that says, ‘When the lion feeds, someone has to die’. And so the first victim that had to die to keep the powerful Gliptin lion alive was Rosiglitazone, a sibling of Pioglitazone.

It was accused of first degree murder, quickly tried, convicted and summarily executed although more than a hundred other more lethal drugs still rule the roost here, flying across sales counters, without doctors’ prescriptions.

Close upon the heels of this macabre victory the honourable ‘Brutuses’ turned their daggers on the present victim citing its banishment from France and Germany, although it is still very much in use in almost the whole world, including the United States, Canada, Japan and the rest of Europe.

In fact it is still the tenth largest selling drug in the United States.

Now in our country, with Pioglitazone gone, the Gliptins, which have failed to do anything impressive, will be the only option for diabetics who desperately try to avoid embarking on Insulin. And, this is where all those who peddle them will stand to gain their billions from their clever act.

***

So investing just a few millions in ‘buying’ the help of someone in our health ministry only amounts to offering the crumbs that fall off their plates onto the dining table.

Perhaps the makers and marketers of the different kinds of Insulins too are abettors of this heinous crime as patients who do not benefit from Gliptins now have no other option than to start them.

Today, it is a matter of pride that Indian doctors are among the most respected and trusted all over the world. With their academic excellence and clinical skills they have made a tremendous impact on the healthcare front and are much sought after both by patients and research foundations.

We have some of the best professional societies for conducting research on almost all the major diseases well within our country.

Yet, without seeking the opinion of any of these bodies and without as much as a debate or discussion among the many excellent academic fora that we have in our country for the study of Diabetes and with just a stroke of the bureaucratic pen, someone, somewhere, sitting in the ivory towers of administration in New Delhi and who does not know the A, B or C of pharmacology or medical practice has signed the death warrant that is bound to spell doom for at least three crore Indian lives.

It is an act that will amount to being the biggest genocide in history if only we have the far-sighted vision to foresee it. And if we do not have this vision, it will be a tragedy that will most likely go unnoticed because it is not going to happen at once like the Bhopal gas disaster to make a noticeable impact, unfolding silently like a Biblical pestilence only over the next few decades.

Diabetic patients who cannot afford the Gliptins, the prices of which have shown no signs of coming down and which cannot do much good even if made affordable, simply cannot keep their disease under control.

All those who cannot afford Insulin injections or accept the pain and inconvenience of embarking on them will stand to lose.

Elderly patients who stay alone and who do not have the dexterity to inject themselves and who could have kept the disease under control for many more years with oral tablets of Pioglitazone will be the most helpless losers.

And, to top it all, uncontrolled diabetes is a disease with unimaginable morbidity and the highest mortality, all of which is easily avoidable with proper management.

Despite the grim scenario that is set to unfold, all is not lost yet and I still see hope for all the hopeless if a few professional bodies seek a legal remedy from the Supreme Court against this ban which certainly smells of a mega-scam and demand a rethink, taking all pros and cons into consideration.

We can at least retain the drug with a stipulation that it should be used very judiciously only in those patients who are not at risk of its side effects.

But with the Gliptin and Insulin lobby being very strong, perhaps tomorrow itself you may find the media abuzz with write-ups and blogs calling my kind of writing ill-informed and amateurish.

Well paid ghost writers can certainly write a more effective charge-sheet than what an unpaid doctor like me can do and I may naturally be no match for them. But the truth needs to be told in the interests of all those who stand to lose.

The millions of patients who will lose their lives due to their reluctance to buy the expensive medicines that will help them live just a wee bit longer, while their loved ones die of hunger.

Or, the loved ones who will live on, after losing much, much before their time, the ones who nourished and nurtured them.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Patel Basappa, Krishnappa & lessons in humanity

11 June 2013

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Very recently we read about an incident in our City where a software engineer who sought shelter from sudden rain under the balcony of a building was dealt with rudely by the house owner and driven away. This resulted in outraged people of the area pelting stones at the building in disgust and creating a minor law and order problem for a brief while.

While it certainly seems like a very unusual kind of reaction from the building owner I am not very surprised because there will always be some people who are unusually circumspect with the tendency to see everyone around them with a suspicious eye.

Such people simply refuse to accept the possibility that a person who has entered their premises under duress may just be another soul in distress and not someone with malicious intentions.

Soon after this report appeared, K.B. Ganapathy highlighted how in a show of unusual kindness a very ordinary person offered not only shelter but also a refreshing glass of buttermilk to an elderly stranger who happened to turn to his house for a glass of water after a long and exhausting walk.

It was only much later after this kind deed that the host discovered that his accidental guest was none other than the RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan who had got lost while on his morning walk during a visit to our city.

Most people, whether they are rich or poor, generally tend to be kind to strangers in distress they happen to meet. It is only a few very rare ones who tend to be otherwise and they should not influence our impressions of the goodness of our fellow human beings.

***

My late father while telling us about his school days used to always give the example of this inborn goodness that he had seen in an elderly gentleman of his era.

It appears he and his brothers used to walk to and from our estate to their school in the village located at a distance of about ten kilometers.

Somewhere in between there was the house of the village head who was known as Patel Basappa and many school children, especially during the summer months would stop and take rest on the masonry platform, popularly called ‘jagali’ which was in front of this house.

Whenever the children asked for a glass of water, Patel Basappa’s wife or mother would offer them freshly made buttermilk in large brass tumblers instead of plain water and this was not an occasional occurrence but a daily practice.

Although there was a small rivulet that they would wade through and cross every day on their way to school and back, the old man would warn them never to drink the river water as it would make them sick.

Every Saturday, which was the day of the village weekly shandy, the Patel would himself sit in his armchair with a cloth bag full of puffed rice and roasted gram (kadle-puri) and offer handfuls of it to the children on their way back from school.

This was an event all the children would gleefully look forward to and not one soul including the sick ones would miss school on Saturdays!

***

Many years ago when borewell digging rigs were not very common I happened to visit Chamarajanagar on my trusty Lambretta scooter to hire a rig to get a borewell dug in our estate.

It was a rather rainy day and on our way back it started raining rather heavily between Nanjangud and Mysore. I stopped and left my scooter at a house at Tandavapura telling the lady of the house that I would pick it up the next day and rode back to Mysore in the rig, sitting alongside the driver in his cabin.

When I went back by bus early the next morning to fetch my scooter I was pleasantly surprised to see it washed of all the mud and grime that it was plastered with from my wanderings of the previous day. Thanks to someone’s kindness it now stood sparkling clean.

When I approached the old lady who was now tending to her two goats and asked her who had washed my scooter she smiled and said that since it was looking very dirty she had fetched a pail of water from the well and done it herself. I did not know how to thank her for her concern and kind-heartedness.

***

On another occasion while I was doing my MD a friend who was newly-married and was visiting Mysore with his wife had borrowed my scooter for a few days to go round the city visiting friends and sight-seeing.

On the last day of their trip while they were returning from the Brindavan Gardens the scooter broke down and they had no other option late in the evening than to leave it at a house in Belagola village nearby. They returned to the city by bus and informed me the nature of the problem and also where they had left the scooter.

I went to Belagola early the next morning and as I used to always keep all the essential tools along with a spare spark plug, a headlamp bulb and a set of control cables in the tool compartment, I had it purring smoothly in just a few minutes time.

When I thanked Krishnappa, the owner of the house, and took leave of him, he and his wife Kamala would not let me go without having breakfast! They said that it was an honour for them to have three doctors visiting them in less than twenty four hours and pleaded with me to have just a couple of chapaties with some freshly ground coconut chutney.

Their simple fare was so good that I ended up having not two but four chapaties with dollops of butter melting on each one of them!

I told the couple that I was equally touched and honoured to be their guest and reassured them that they could approach me for any help with their health problems. Thankfully they seem to be bestowed with very good health as they never had an occasion to see me as my patients but still many people from Belagola and the nearby village of Hosa Anandur come to me, giving me their reference.

My good old Lambretta too; once my round-the-clock companion and my work horse that served me faithfully for more than thirty years without giving me any pain beyond a slightly broken front tooth from a fall, still remains with me, enjoying its retirement and my admiration!

Why do we wait so long to honour our legends?

17 May 2013

B_Id_384364_Pran_Sikhand

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: We recently saw the veteran thespian Pran getting the Dada Saheb Phalke award for his contribution to Indian cinema over nearly five decades.

As a child I used to think that he must be the meanest and vilest person on earth as I used to see him only as the traditional ‘bad man’ who could do no good. That was until I grew up a little to see him doing some good too in his later movies where someone perhaps thought of transforming his character!

But what all grownups now agree upon is how nice a gentleman he was in his real life whenever he was off the film sets.

While all his fans are very happy that he got his due when he was selected for what is considered the highest and most coveted award of the land in his field, I fail to understand why the honour was bestowed on him so late in his life when the ravages of time and old age have ensured that he can never relish the happiness of the honour in full measure or for long?

When he had stopped acting more than a decade ago and had retired and when we all knew what a magnificent innings he had played, where was the need to wait so long before recognising his contribution to the film industry?

It is not just with Pran that this has happened.

We routinely see many honours being awarded to many very accomplished and talented people long after they can feel fully rewarded for their roles. On many occasions we have seen the person passing away very soon after receiving the honours. And it is not just in our country that this happens.

Even in the case of the Nobel Prize we routinely see that many laureates are given the award years after their contribution to their fields is recognised when they can only totter to the stage in a confused daze supported by others or in wheelchairs.

Is it necessary for us to wait decades before we acknowledge their greatness in a much belated show of magnanimity that holds no meaning for them? I think if we love someone we should say so when it can make the person feel happy. Otherwise what purpose does it serve?

Do think about it.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where an enlarged version of this piece first appeared)

Photograph: courtesy Press Trust of India

Why have Doctors stopped making house-visits?

12 April 2013

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Most of the books that recount the experiences of medical practitioners from a bygone era, which I re-read from time to time, invariably tell us about their very interesting house -visit experiences.

A.J. Cronin’s autobiographical masterpiece Adventures in Two Worlds and his novel The Citadel are two very notable examples while James Herriot’s four omnibus editions are in no way inferior or far behind, although they deal with a vet’s adventures with animals and their very interesting owners.

In yester years, almost every movie would have a scene where a doctor, clutching his signature black bag, would make a house visit to see a patient. Interestingly, on his way out the bag would invariably be carried, by the patient’s son or other relative who would see the doctor off!

The mortifying diagnosis that the doctor would announce almost in a whisper would be TB, which then had no cure. And when a cure for TB finally did come somewhere in the early 1960s the diagnosis promptly changed to cancer, to heighten the impact of the patient’s helplessness.

Another thing that intrigued and amused me then was why while a doctor was shown making a house call even to see a mildly sick patient, almost no movie ever showed a patient being taken to see a doctor in his consulting room as is the practice now.

***

While making house calls was almost standard practice for most doctors in the past, these days house-visits by doctors are almost unheard of and now even in a serious emergency it is almost impossible to get a doctor to come home and see a patient.

Very often when death comes calling at home and the relatives are not able to say with certainty whether the person is dead or only deeply unconscious it helps if a doctor sees him or her to dispel any lingering doubts. But to get a doctor to make a house visit even to do this is not very easy and anxious relatives have no other option but to shift the person to a hospital only to be told there that he or she is beyond any help.

It is also not very easy for elderly persons who stay alone without their siblings or other relatives to seek and get medical help in an emergency. These days this situation has become commonplace, with children working far away from home being unable to attend to the medical needs of their elderly parents on a day to day basis.

And most elderly people have some medical problem or the other which needs periodic attention.

Even for those aged people who have their relatives with them it is not very easy to go over to a hospital if they happen to be very infirm or bedridden especially if they live in an apartment block where a stretcher trolley cannot be accommodated in the elevator.

Considering all these difficulties it will certainly be a very great boon to society if some doctors are available who would be willing to make house calls in an emergency.

Very often I have told many doctors who have not been doing very well in their practices that they can certainly improve their standing by agreeing to make house calls and I have found that those who followed this advice seriously quickly became very successful. But the sad part is that once they become well known and patients start coming to their clinics they invariably stop going to patients’ homes in times of need.

There is indeed a very great demand for house calls in our society and doctors would do well to include this service in their daily practice.

***

Some years ago I met a very successful doctor in Bangalore who is doing very well financially without any postgraduate qualifications. Very surprisingly he has no clinic. He only makes house calls every day and is busy from morning till evening six days a week.

He has a very organised approach and he registers all his calls in a diary and at the beginning of each day he prioritizes them according to the seriousness of his patients and the traffic conditions so that he does not waste time in traffic jams.

Every patient’s number is called back and recorded for safety’s sake and it is also messaged to another mobile phone at home. His driver doubles as his secretary, maintaining his diary and holding on to it at all times. He never accompanies his master into the patient’s house and he never leaves the car during the calls to preclude any compromise to their safety.

This doctor has become so popular that he gets regular referrals from consultants who can keep a better watch on their patients’ progress through him. He has now narrowed down his area of operation to what he can manage best and he told me that there is certainly much scope for many more players if they can co-ordinate their operations.

I hope this trend picks up and helps in getting medical care to bedridden patients’ bedsides in the comfort and convenience of their homes, saving them the bother of going to hospitals for every tiny problem. Thankfully this kind of medical care seems all set to make a beginning in our own city too.

A very close friend of mine and a fellow-physician with very good qualifications and a good deal of experience too called me up recently to tell me that he has seriously thought of starting this kind of practice as an act of public service. I was overjoyed and wished him well as I knew that he would indeed be doing some much needed good to ailing humanity.

I hope he does not get disillusioned by any initial teething troubles that are bound to be there and more importantly I also hope that other members of our fraternity see the sense in what he is embarking on and encourage him. Three cheers to the man who has decided to step out of the box to put some good cheer into the lives of those who need it most!

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

FREE: Four sure-fire steps to ward off Swine Flu

5 April 2013

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Whether we accept it or deny it, it is a fact that Swine Flu cases are on the increase in our country.

It is a potentially dangerous and often fatal affliction with a very high degree of infectivity brought on by physical contact and droplet transmission through coughing and sneezing. Anxious patients and their accompanying persons ask me how they can avoid getting infected.

Here are the most effective measures that can arrest its spread.

# Firstly, avoid shaking hands with all the persons you meet in a show of great Western warmth. A very Indian ‘Namaste’ or ‘Aadab’ can be an equally warm way of expressing your affection and regard without endangering yourselves and the person you are greeting.

# Secondly, avoid hugging people and pecking them on their cheeks as most members of the fair sex do these days. It is certainly more dangerous than shaking hands.

# Thirdly, avoid very crowded areas and air-conditioned halls without good cross-ventilation. Air conditioners are notorious for ensuring that all those present receive a fair dose of the infection they are trying hard to avoid!

# Lastly, if you are in doubt, use hand sanitisers liberally to keep yourself safe after shaking hands, especially with your doctor!

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where the full version of this piece appeared)

Also read: FREE: Five easy steps to a stress-free life

A doctor’s prescription for a happy, new year

Once upon a time, when my doctor was an angel

The doctor who dissected the body of J.B.S. Haldane

Esther Preethi and the true meaning of education

26 November 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The week that has gone by had a mixed bag of events that have left me with mixed feelings, both happy and sad.

The news that really stirred my soul and elevated it to an unusually lofty level of happiness was about the Sri Venkateswara University in Andhra Pradesh postponing its engineering examinations by a full week to let the students of one engineering college collect donations to save the life of one of its students — Esther Preethi, the daughter of a poor taxi driver from Madanapalli in Chittoor District, now doing her final year engineering at NBKR Institute of Technology in Nellore.

She reportedly developed liver failure for which she was advised a liver transplant costing almost Rs 50 lakh.

Her father was crestfallen as this amount was far beyond his means and even what he could hope to garner from sources open to him. That was when his daughter’s college-mates decided to do their bit by collecting donations from the public to pay for Preethi’s surgery.

Since the need for surgery was very urgent, as it usually is in such cases, about 540 students of final year engineering rushed to the director of the college, V. Vijayakumar Reddy, with a request to allow them to go out and collect donations by skipping classes.

Touched by the students’ resolve, the college management, too, offered financial assistance and allowed the students to spare no efforts to save Preethi’s life.

Forming about 30 groups, the students went around Nellore town and nearby villages and started collecting donations. Since their examinations too were just round the corner the students again pleaded with their college management to speak to the Vice-Chancellor to postpone the exams on humanitarian grounds.

In perhaps an act of unprecedented magnanimity, the Sri Venkateswara University (SVU) responded to their request and postponed the first semester examinations of its final year, which had to begin on November 14, to give time to the students to help save their ailing friend.

“This could be the first time that a University has rescheduled examinations to allow students to collect funds for a noble cause,” Reddy said after SVU Vice-Chancellor W. Rajendra issued a notification acceding to the students’ request.

My joy is naturally very great because this is the true meaning and spirit of any real education. There is no point in simply quoting rules and applying them mechanically as is usually done all around us when a more humanitarian approach would do much good in a delicate situation.

When the powers vested in us permit us to be kind rather than curt, it is important to take the former approach. I salute all those who did their bit to save Preethi’s budding life and wish her a speedy recovery.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

***

Also read: From Guruswamypalyam, a lesson for all shishyas

A Hindu iftar for a good Muslim doctor at work

A hero who served the dead and living of all castes

What the lights ‘n’ sights of Mysore hide from you

20 October 2012

Doorada betta nunnuge” (from afar, even a distant hill looks smooth) is an old Kannada saying.

The sight of the Mysore palace with the Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar circle in the foreground, all decked up for Dasara in Mysore on Saturday, is a shining example of that. “Dasara Works” are going on feverishly even as the festival is veering to an end, but tourists and visitors are unlikely to notice.

For, the lights provide a nice veneer to mask the darkness.

***

Dr K. Javeed Nayeem writes in Star of Mysore:

“We are all in the middle of Dasara which is our most important annual event. But Mysore is still getting decked up for the occasion even after the short-lived celebrations themselves have started and are also about to end. It is a little like the bride still getting dressed even after the priest has started chanting the sacred mantras, completely unmindful of the fact that she is missing and only mindful of not allowing the designated auspicious moment to slip away!

“This is the scenario that meets our weary eyes year after year, ever since the Dasara slipped from the hands of our erstwhile royalty into the hands of our new netas. I wonder why some proper planning does not go into its preparations. At least it can then serve its intended purpose of showcasing our city at its best and making our tourists happy that the time, effort and money they spent on seeing it were worth it….

“Here I am reminded of Aesop‘s fairy tale where work on the project which started off in great haste, has fallen asleep enroute like the hare, while it is slowly but steadily being overtaken by its rival, the tortoise of escalating costs. Instead of wasting money and time on fairy tale projects and trying to achieve the impossible, it would be better if we concentrate on doing something tangible and useful.”

Photograph: Karnataka Photo News

Also read: What is so world-famous about Mysore Dasara?

Should Bollywood have a place in Mysore Dasara?

Once upon a time, on this day, in another age

Mysore Mallige for the Maharani amid gold, glitz

A hero who served the living & dead of all castes

14 September 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Last week, Mysore saw the passing away of a man whom most people of any substance will perhaps never miss. But the less fortunate ones amongst us, whose number is legion and who are considered a burden on society, both while they are alive and strangely even after they are dead, will perhaps begin to notice his absence from their midst very soon.

Ghulam Hussain, the nondescript and soft spoken man whom I knew over the past 30 years, bid a silent adieu to this world and to his most humble and thankless existence without me even knowing that he was dead. I discovered that he was not only dead but buried too only when I picked up Star of Mysore on the evening of that fateful day of his departure.

He was perhaps the only person in our midst who served the living and the dead alike, unmindful of who they were or to which caste and community they belonged, as long as they just happened to be the unfortunate ones who belonged to nobody.

I first ‘discovered’ him prowling the dingy and humid wards of K. R. Hospital, way back in the year 1982 when I started my post graduation in medicine. To be very frank and honest even at the risk of inviting the wrath of those who already knew him better, I first saw him only as a pesky nuisance and interference in my work.

He used to walk about in the wards, very often during the non-visiting hours, softly conversing with patients and making enquiries about their ailments with doctors and post-graduate students.

Now, which post-graduate student, especially of a subject as lofty and as hallowed as medicine, who feels he is the absolute lord and master of the ten rickety and ramshackle beds allotted to him, will tolerate the presence, let alone the interference from a miserable looking man in faded clothes and much mended leather chappals during his work?

But very quickly and thankfully the realisation dawned on me and my colleagues too that while we considered our work very noble and noteworthy this man was only making it a little easier for us with his presence by our side.

He would be in our ward, often a little before us and enquire about the poorest of the poor patients who needed some medicines or lab tests that were not available in the hospital.

Incidentally, there was no dearth of the facilities that were then not available in the hospital and so we would sheepishly tell him what would do much good not only to our patients but to our reputations too.

He would write down the requirements on a small scrap of folded paper and walk over to the next block of the hospital only to reappear the next day with a day’s medicine for each one of his beneficiaries that would keep their hearts and hopes ticking.

How he managed to garner funds for this kind of work was beyond our understanding but he was always a beacon of hope for anyone unfortunate enough to fall sick with no one to turn to.

He would always tell me that he was only a social worker of the Jamat-e-Islami-e-Hind which had entrusted him with what he was doing under the president ship of Altaf Ahmed, another silent toiler for the cause of communal harmony and service to the downtrodden, sans communal barriers.

Ghulam Hussain would not only look after the material and medical needs of poor patients but would also visit them after their operations and console them through their periods of anxiety and apprehension if they were seriously ill.

His reputation as an honest and sincere worker had grown so much that many rich and well to do people would immediately agree to extend financial help to needy patients if it was routed through him. In the unfortunate event of the deaths of any destitute in the city he would be the first one to arrive at the scene and arrange for the last rites fully in accordance with the person’s religious affiliations.

That he never saw human life on the basis of baser considerations becomes evident from the fact that once during communal clashes that briefly tore asunder the harmony of our City, he stood between an armed group of Muslims and two young Hindu boys who had been cornered.

He told the threatening goons in no uncertain terms that they would have to first kill him before laying their hands on the two helpless boys. Knowing who he was, they quietly dispersed into the lanes and alleys without a word of argument with him.

His association with the K. R. and Cheluvamba hospitals continued till his own end.

On the sixth of this month when he perhaps for the first time realised that his own end was near, he took his assistant Faiyaz Ahmed to the RMO and introduced him as the man who would henceforth continue his work. Just four day after this, Ghulam Hussain was no more, having died as quietly as he had lived and worked.

The measure of this very poor and modest man’s greatness can be gauged from the fact that at his funeral there was no space for all the mourners to stand in the mosque. The prayer had to be conducted in a big playground alongside. All this, while he himself was perhaps standing in surprise with his head bowed before his maker to get his rightful due.

(With inputs from Prof Riaz Ahmed and Dr Irfan Ahmed Riazi)

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

The case against Aamir Khan’s view of doctors—II

22 June 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: After Aamir Khan stirred up a hornet’s nest with his show about the misdeeds of doctors, I seem to have done the same with my article, which some people have seen as a defensive act from a member of the medical fraternity.

I have received many letters from viewers of the show and my readers too who have vented out their gall at the heart-rending sorrow of the victims and my audacity in protecting the image of the doctors supposedly responsible for it.

Apart from the two cases I discussed last week, many have challenged me to disprove him on the other counts where he has revealed many more misdeeds of doctors. I certainly will do so in full measure before I pull the curtain down on this matter, which I do not intend to do in a hurry.

I stepped in just because I felt that in showing what certainly seemed to be the main issue of that episode, Aamir Khan certainly picked on two very wrong cases to prove his point about all that has gone wrong with the practice of medicine in our country.

***

Yes, medical practice is no longer as sacrosanct as it once was and there is a lot that needs to be set right if it has to serve the needs of suffering humanity.

While someone attempts this, I would like to remind society here that a lot needs to be set right if medical practice has to serve the needs of practising doctors too.

If only Aamir Khan had done a little bit of research to locate some real cases of medical malpractice or negligence and ferreted out the real incriminating evidence behind them, before presenting them before his audience, he would have done some real service to society.

Moreover, instead of just presenting one version of what happened it would have been most appropriate and fair to all concerned if he had simultaneously or immediately after, given a chance for the doctors or the hospital managements to present their defence.

This would have made it more interesting and lent the utmost credibility not only to his show but also to his image and intentions. Of what use is any re-buttal if it has to be done through some other source or on some other platform? Even now, it is not too late for him to arrange this in one of the forthcoming episodes and I hope he does it.

***

Coming to his accusation that most doctors prescribe only expensive, branded drugs even when much cheaper generic alternatives are easily available, I would like to set the facts right here. It is true that for every branded drug there are at least a hundred cheaper versions readily available in Indian market.

This is thanks to our government’s policy of allowing anyone with a little money to ‘buy’ a drug manufacturing licence and start making a killing. Beyond this shred of paper that ensures complete legal immunity no other infrastructure whatsoever is necessary to set up a drug manufacturing plant in a tin-roofed shed, located in a seedy bylane and ply this lucrative trade.

Most such drugs do not have any drug inside. So, what goes into these tablets, capsules or tonics? They contain either plain chalk powder, sawdust or sweetened and coloured water.

If this seems like an exaggeration, why do we regularly have incidents in our country of spurious and sub-standard drugs and even vaccines killing the people who happen to receive them?

Why do the drugs dispensed by our government hospitals fail to bring down the high fever that bends the bodies of the poor patients who go there, while the same drug prescribed by the very same government doctor but dispensed by the private chemist across the road quickly puts them back on their feet?

One of my former professors at the Mysore Medical College who valued his integrity and honesty more than the instant material wealth it would have brought him, refused a promotion and returned from an administrative posting when he was pestered by spurious drug manufacturers to accept huge bribes and clear their pending applications.

He chose to remain in his almost non-paying teaching job, preferring to sleep on a pillow of a clear conscience rather than on a bed of currency notes. Today, without exception whatsoever, every one in the city respects him as the best example and embodiment of the rare qualities that one seeks in a doctor.

And, for this uprightness, he also happens to be one of my guiding beacons and I turn to him for the right counsel whenever I am faced with a professional problem or a moral dilemma.

***

The companies that manufacture branded versions of drugs have a reputation and a track record to protect and they will therefore get periodic quality checks done by authorised agencies to uphold the set standards.

In this respect, many reputed Indian companies and multinational manufacturing giants who have invested much money into research and development naturally keep the prices of their products a little high. This is understandably inevitable and we have to accept the fact that quality can come only at a cost.

It has now become a fashion to simply blame multinationals for all our problems.

Yes, multinationals may be exploiting us with their expensive products and in doing so they may even qualify to be called anti-nationals but at least they give us safe and effective drugs. If your doctor insists on your buying a particular brand of medicine, it is often because he or she has established faith in it.

On the other hand, if you end up buying a generic drug whose manufacturer is unknown and whose quality can therefore never be ensured, with what confidence can he or she treat you?

People may accuse doctors of yielding to the enticement and pressure of pharma companies but that is not the whole truth. If only generic drugs are permitted to be sold in the country as some people wish, the profit margins to the sellers, instead of the quality of the drug, will decide what the patients get.

I would prefer to give up practising medicine altogether if I have to do so without any control over what my patients get as medicine.

That is why all my prescriptions carry a line in small print at the bottom that says: “Responsibility for this prescription ceases if drugs are substituted, redispensed or sold without a valid bill.”

***

Aamir Khan while talking on the show and also before a Parliamentary Standing Committee yesterday about the need to promote generic drugs to keep treatment costs low should have taken a little trouble to ascertain the sources of drugs dispensed at most of the government hospitals across the country today.

As far as I know, we should be surprised if any of these drugs happen to be from any of the top 20 trust-worthy drug-manufacturing companies, which are operating in India. This is thanks to corrupt officials and politicians who rule the roost.

It is an open secret that heavy bribes have to be paid at every stage, to get oneself on the list of drug suppliers to the government healthcare sector and also to get tenders passed from time to time.

Therefore, it is no surprise that as each bureaucratic milestone is painfully crossed, the quantity of the real drug in the formulation naturally keeps decreasing until only the chalk powder, the sawdust and the sugar-water that I talked about, manage to reach the final destination!

***

Common sense should tell us that good drugs that really work, can only come from good companies that can get the prices that do justice to their quality control and good manufacturing practices.

In our country, all the good intentions of a doctor who insists on any particular brand of the prescribed drug can be derailed by many agencies.

With the already prevalent suspicion in most patients’ minds, just a whisper that the doctor is on the payroll or patronage of a drug company, from one dishonest chemist who wants to sell a brand that pays him more, is enough to convert doubt into conviction.

Patients must understand the fact that the best advertisement for any doctor’s capability is the efficacy of his or her treatment and in this respect, no doctor will endanger his reputation by prescribing a drug of doubtful quality simply to get a cut from any pharma company, as alleged on Aamir Khan’s show.

The great Khan further talked of needless lab tests that doctors order just to get commissions from labs who in turn recover these expenses by issuing reports without actually doing the tests.

While I do agree that most labs these days pay cuts to beat competition and stay in business, I do not think any decent medical lab would issue reports without performing the tests. If this practice exists, it is only at the slimy bottom of medical practice where the most unethical practitioners of the art operate and it is no index of the integrity and honesty of doctors in general.

But when something as ugly as selective female foeticide does exist in our country, and since some medical doctors have been found guilty of it, we cannot completely deny the existence of these ‘unperformed tests’.

***

Since doctors too have now been brought under the purview of the consumer protection act, litigation has become easy and cost-free for any disgruntled patient. Patients can now file cases against doctors at the drop of a hat over the most frivolous issues and doctors who used to spend their leisure hours unwinding in tennis courts, are now forced to spend much time and money in standing and defending themselves in law courts.

Very often, they have to be at the receiving end of adverse and financially burdensome judgements, as they cannot prove the correctness of their actions on the strength of paper records and reports.

Because courts go only by material evidence while deciding cases, doctors now to indemnify themselves against litigation are forced to order a plethora of lab tests and also go in for higher and higher malpractice insurance. Naturally, unknown to them, it is the patients themselves who end up paying the cost of these tests and the premiums for these insurance policies.

The commissions paid by labs are just a side effect of this sad development and they are actually not the main cause for the unnecessary tests, which now have to be accepted as quite justified, considering the present scenario. The labs have to resort to this unethical practice because they have to stay in business and recover their investments after paying the steep interest on their bank loans.

Today, it is no surprise that more than 75 per cent of the wide array of lab tests that doctors order, is what the consumer protection act has forced on them. The moment this act came into the scene, the sanctity of the relationship between the patient and the doctor that existed over the years died forever.

With just one stroke of the law-making pen, the sacred Vaidya of the age-old Indian shloka: ‘Vaidyo Narayana Hari‘ was unceremoniously tossed out of the hospital window.

Now, like how it happens in a Shakespearean tragedy, the scene has changed completely and the patient is only an aggressive consumer and the doctor only a very defensive service provider.

You may argue here that not all patients are aggressive and vindictive. But how are we to decide who the good ones and bad ones are, beforehand?

***

In this cat-and-mouse game, Dr Jekyll can become Mr Hyde and vise versa, without warning.

We doctors regularly see not just really aggrieved and wronged patients turning to the courts but also those who did not like the outcome of their treatment. There are records of people having gone to court with false charges simply because hospital bills were not waived off or reduced as requested by them.

I know of many patients who attribute all that befalls them later to the ‘wrong’ treatment that they once received at some hospital.

Similarly, I routinely encounter women who blame the tubectomy operation they underwent decades ago for all the aches, pains, coughs, colds and cancers that they now suffer from.

I have once seen the inside of a consumer court as an expert witness and I did not find it a very comforting or friendly place. While watching the proceedings, I noticed charges being traded left and right by litigants, like paper missiles, without any regard to the wisdom enshrined in any textbook, either medical or legal.

Now I do not intend to revisit the place, especially as a defendant.

What I am going to say here may shock you but even I am guilty of ordering some ‘unnecessary’ lab tests sometimes in my practice. However, these lab tests are only unnecessary from the point of view that if I am fully honest, I really do not need their help to make a diagnosis, which is where all lab tests are meant to help us.

I order these often expensive tests only to keep myself and my practice safe from any medical malpractice litigation. Very often, even where I find the diagnosis staring at me in my face, I never proceed to announce it or treat the condition before I get the verdict straight from the horse’s mouth.

And, here my helpful horse is the friendly neighbourhood diagnostic lab, which is naturally a pretty expensive horse to boot because of all the expensive equipment it bears on its back.

In the event of the need to treat some poor patients, which I do quite often in my practice, I ask the patients’ relatives to simply sign an undertaking that they cannot afford the cost of the recommended tests and are therefore willing to go by my clinical diagnosis.

I then quickly keep this precious document in my bank locker, which I have hired just for this purpose!

For me these uninvestigated cases are the most comforting ones to treat, as they, while making me feel like a real doctor from the good old times, do not impose a strain on my conscience.

Coming to the really pathetic portrayal on Aamir Khan’s show of the plight of women from Andhra Pradesh who seem to have been subjected en masse to needless hysterectomies or removal of the uterus, I am almost certain that this must have been some kind of an insurance racket involving unscrupulous middlemen and it needs to be investigated fully. All those found guilty, including the doctors if any, should receive the most deterrent punishment.

These days whenever patients get themselves some kind of medical insurance, agencies which would have sold them the policy, often prevail upon them to make the best use of the cover before its term expires. They do this to make the insured persons feel that investing on the policy was a worthwhile expenditure because it helped them to get treated for some ailment, real or imaginary.

While most of us would be happy not to have needed our medical insurance cover, many people especially from the lower strata of society, feel cheated if they have to get it renewed year after year without putting its benefits to any use.

I regularly come across many patients who are desperately impatient to put their medical insurance to some use and it is often a difficult task to dissuade them from doing so.

Very recently, a lady came to my clinic with a medical insurance policy for Rs. 1,000, which she had received as a compliment for buying a crate of dish-washing soap. Under its cover, she wanted me to certify that she was under my treatment for which she was willing to share 50 per cent of the amount with me.

When I did not oblige she went away complaining that I was so unhelpful in getting her what was legitimately her due under the policy. She would perhaps have even felt that I stood my ground only because the miserable incentive was not large enough to make me abandon my principles!

***

Aamir Khan should understand and accept the fact that the medical fraternity he is lampooning on his show is guided and governed by many complex issues that deal with life’s most complex and elusive problems.

Practising medicine is more of an art than a science, where two identical problems often do not respond identically despite identical lines of treatment. When it comes to medicine, he is after all only a layman and medicine certainly is not his cup of tea like how it is mine! I wish his attention now shifts to something he understands better.

For instance, the black money that keeps the projector wheels turning or the close liaison between the film industry and the underworld. But that takes the kind of courage that this kind of Khan perhaps does not have in him.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece appeared over two weeks)

Also read: An open letter to Aamir Khan from a Kannadiga

CHURUMURI POLL: Aamir Khan vs doctors?

The half-truths of Aamir Khan, the truth fountain

What’s wrong if Aamir Khan exposes ‘butchers’?

The half-truths of Aamir Khan, the truth fountain

8 June 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Satyameva Jayate, which literally means “Truth Stands Invincible” or “Let Truth Prevail”, is a mantra from the ancient Mundaka Upanishad believed to have been written by our sages in 250 BC.

The slogan was popularised and brought into use by Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya in 1918 when he was serving the second of his four terms as president of the Indian National Congress, and it was later adopted as the national motto of India after Independence.

Today it is inscribed at the base of our national emblem, the Ashoka pillar, and is also found on every one of our coins and currency notes, handled by the rich and the poor alike but without anyone ever noticing either its presence or significance whatsoever.

While it was meant to keep our conscience in a state of constant wakefulness to uphold the greatness of our rediscovered nationhood, we Indians with our dishonest ways and dark deeds have sadly kept its guiding light out of our murky lives.

***

Today, ‘Satyamev Jayate’ also happens to be the title of a very popular TV show being aired on every Sunday morning to tell us Indians all the wrong that is happening in our country which we need to set right.

Very recently, in the fourth episode of this widely watched television show, its host Aamir Khan, the popular film hero, chose to speak about health-care services in India and the threat of ‘rampant’ medical negligence. He called on real life ‘victims’ to share their trauma.

One such victim of alleged medical malpractice was retired Army officer Major Pankaj Rai who lost his wife Seema to what he called a badly botched up kidney transplantation operation.

Without naming anyone or any hospital during the course of the show, he said that his wife died as a result of gross medical negligence at a very reputed hospital in the country when she was subjected to a combined kidney and pancreas transplant that was done without the consent of the patient herself or any of the family members.

What Aamir Khan perhaps did not tell his viewers was the fact that on his show he was all along showing them only half-truths about what had actually happened.

And, mind you, half the truth is very often a great lie.

***

All details of the Seema Rai case are now available on the internet at the click of the mouse button. You can easily find out that the transplant surgeon who was accused of being inadequately trained and ill qualified to carry out the operation was actually someone who was trained in the United States with good experience in multi-organ transplantation.

The physician and nephrologist who treated the patient and managed her on dialysis for more than two years before she underwent transplant surgery too had 16 years of clinical experience in the US before he chose to return to India to serve fellow Indians.

He has been practising in India since 2003 without any charge having been levelled against his competence either in the US or in India.

Now, whenever a doctor who has been able to survive and practice in the US, which is one of the most paying but also certainly one of the toughest environments to practice medicine, chooses to return to a country like India, we cannot easily garland him with the accusation of either being selfish or inefficient.

This doctor in question, therefore, does not need me to write a page of unqualified and unpaid defence for him, to uphold his reputation or image, especially when I do not even know him personally.

***

Major Rai alleged on the show that the doctors who did not even have a licence to do the job, whisked his wife off to surgery in the middle of the night without his or her consent and transplanted the kidney of a cadaver donor, along with a pancreas, that was not only an unnecessary medical procedure but also one that risked his wife’s life as well.

What our famous host or his aggrieved guest did not tell us during the show—where they were applauded and cheered by their captive audience—was the fact that this case of alleged medical negligence has been heard by more discerning experts.

The State medical council in its ruling has clearly said there was absolutely no medical negligence involved and there was no motive of personal monetary gain on the part of the doctors. The incident has also been debated over by many professional bodies both in India, and abroad too, including a law University and all of them have ruled that there was no element of medical negligence involved in it whatsoever.

Despite these rulings, the family has chosen to pursue the matter with a claim for a steep monetary compensation and the matter is sub-judice still.

No monetary compensation can do any, let alone full justice, for a human life lost and for the ensuing pain but while the matter is still undecided they should not have aired their angst with misrepresented facts on a TV show meant for the masses hungry for sensational scoops.

It appears the patient who was on dialysis had registered for cadaver kidney transplantation with a government body called the zonal coordination committee for transplantation (ZCCT). Now, cadaver transplantation means the transplantation of organs harvested from brain-dead persons, which is resorted to when living relatives with matching tissues are not available to donate their organs.

In such a situation whenever a suitable organ becomes available, as it usually happens after a fatal road accident, the patients on the waiting list are informed and asked to report immediately if they are interested in getting the transplant done. There is very little time for this procedure to be undertaken as the organs from a brain-dead donor have a very limited lifespan before they are transplanted.

In the case of a kidney, it is best transplanted within six hours after death and usually not more than twenty-four hours to ensure best function after transplantation.

Moreover, the decision-making has to be fast here as other waiting prospective recipients have to be informed if the first one refuses. And, even after a prospective recipient is identified some more hours are needed to establish tissue compatibility.

Therefore, the summons from the hospital for a cadaver transplant patient to quickly get admitted sometimes comes only as an urgent midnight call and there is nothing surprising about it.

***

On May 1, 2010, when the ZCCT, the agency that allocates cadaver kidney organs, informed that a potential cadaver had been identified and Seema Rai was one of the potential recipients, she voluntarily got admitted to the hospital for the procedure.

The patient was evaluated by the nephrologist and the transplant surgeon who discussed the cadaver transplantation procedure with her family after which she, who was a teacher at an international school, along with her husband, gave the informed consent for surgery.

They did this after discussing the relative risks and benefits of surgery with the transplant team and also, over the telephone, with one of their relatives who was perhaps a doctor in the United States.

According to their nephrologist, the transplanted kidney was functioning very well but three days after the operation the patient developed a severe bleeding disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation or DIC. This rare complication, which is known to occur after any major surgery or even the delivery of a baby, causes massive bleeding which is difficult to control even after transfusing many units of blood as well as blood products like plasma and platelets.

It can happen in the best of hospitals and a very famous film actress, Smita Patil who could have sought and afforded the best treatment anywhere in the world, helplessly succumbed to it after childbirth. Despite the best efforts, this patient too failed to respond and expired and her death cannot be said to bet a consequence of any act of negligence of either the transplant team or the hospital.

***

In another case, a patient was shown who claimed that a surgeon had amputated one of his toes needlessly. The ‘needlessness’ of this operation was revealed by another doctor only after it had already been performed. I fail to understand how the second doctor could give such an opinion when he or she had never seen what the problem was like before surgery.

In a situation like diabetic gangrene of one of the toes, a difference of opinion can be expressed only before the surgical procedure and not afterwards. No expert, however efficient and experienced can comment on the need for surgery or the lack of it after the condition has been treated.

No mention was made in the show of whether the patient was a diabetic and how well controlled his blood sugar was before the procedure.

From what I could see on the show, the foot looked like a classical case of diabetic gangrene that had been treated with the perfectly approved and appropriate treatment of surgical amputation. In fact, because healing can often be very slow here, it looked like the perfect answer to any diabetologist’s prayer about what the outcome of correct and prompt treatment should be!

***

Whenever truth is told, it should include the whole truth including the inconvenient bits. This show is not just unabashed ‘truth-telling’ but it aims to hammer the truth in after breaking it into convenient bits.

The whole exercise seems structured to appropriate for its lead star the role of being the truth-fountain. My worry is that he presents both a populist and ‘one-sided truth’ on an enormously complex social issue with a dangerous authority that only his kind of stardom can muster.

In his show, Aamir Khan has certainly taken a huge leap from simply raising the awareness of his audience to being a medical expert, interlocutor and activist all rolled into one.

Here he is not just making a fictitious film where he can manipulate facts to create a sensational effect on his viewers. Here he is sensationalising a real life situation in a reality show watched by very well-educated and even a technically qualified audience too in addition to the lay public that laps up as truth all that comes from the lips of their hero.

The show goes beyond a lay talk show, which at least pretends to allow different shades of opinion to argue, debate, agree or disagree with a situation. It only shows a blind judge without any qualification, showing his audience the subtle shades of differ-ence that lend charm to the sunset that his stardom dreads.

Await more comforting truths next week!

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Also read: An open letter to Aamir Khan from a Kannadiga

CHURUMURI POLL: Aamir Khan vs doctors?

CHURUMURI POLL: Medical insurance: a big ripoff?

Once upon a time, when my doctor was an angel

Do Mysore’s doctors, hospitals have any ethics?

Do we really need these super-slick bus stops?

20 April 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: As all of us have noticed, the humble bus stops that we had all over the City have started undergoing some drastic cosmetic changes. This is due to the new policy of the City Corporation in allowing them to become sources of good revenue through paid advertisements.

Until very recent times bus stops were just staid, charmless places, announcing meaning-less bus timings where seemingly bored people stood under a concrete shelter cursing their seemingly endless wait. But now they have become very bright and colourful with translit plastic boards all around, announcing the virtues of the new products or services of the advertising sponsors.

It is a different matter though that I have still not noticed any marked change in the dull expressions on the faces of all those who stand and wait there!

Nevertheless, from the increasing difficulty that I face every passing day in avoiding angry buses while driving around the city, I have naturally surmised that the number of city buses has certainly increased, making waiting for them a little less painful. However, the priorities behind this ‘plastic surgery’ of our bus shelters seem rather lopsided.

Last Tuesday night I happened to see one bus stop in the process of such a make-over (in picture, above).

It was getting a set of exactly thirty-three fluorescent tube lights of 40 watts each.

Now, this translates into 1,280 watts of electricity consumption per hour, which to me seems rather wasteful considering the fact that each bus stop is illuminated for almost five hours every day. Although our government can easily say that the sponsors pay for it very willingly, can we as an energy-strapped nation afford it?

In an environmental sense, electricity does not come cheap to us considering the strain its generation imposes on our already scarce natural resources like coal and oil. Is this kind of progress not totally unmindful of the future?

Year after year, for almost half the year, we regularly go through an energy crisis that cripples our industrial production and puts every housewife and student to much inconvenience with untimely power cuts, especially during exam time. We curse our fate and the summer heat alike, both at home and the office and yet we never learn the simple lessons that life tries to teach us.

I think our government should look a little beyond just its ledger books while giving permission to business enterprises, shops and especially malls, our new found pride, to indulge in the wasteful use of electricity. We can certainly cut our energy use in half if we do this and this can be the best that we can do for our planet and our progeny.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where a longer version of this piece appeared)

The doctor who dissected the body of Haldane

6 April 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Last Sunday I was at Salem in Tamil Nadu with my family. We were there just for a day and it was a journey of only about 270 kilometers each way. But for me it was actually a long voyage back in time, spanning over more than 35 years.

It was a journey back to the era of my days as a young medical student in distant Gulbarga, then and sometimes even now, considered by all those in government service as the most befitting punishment posting.

The year was 1975 and it was Monday the 18th of August, perhaps the best time of the year, after the soothing rains had cooled and greened the place a little, to introduce the unwary and the uninitiated to the vagaries of a land that is famous for having only two seasons: summer and very hot summer.

We were a batch of 67 students who were all seated well in time for our first class of the MBBS course.

It was a bright sunny morning and all of us were at the peak of our happiness and eagerness, as only those who become medical students will perhaps know.

At the stroke of eight, a dark, bespectacled man in a long white coat, looking every inch a professor, entered the hall, automatically muting every one of us and sending the hall into pin drop silence.

He introduced himself as Dr Vissa Ramachandra Rao (VRR), the professor and head of the Department of Anatomy and from his language and bearing it was not difficult for me to quickly surmise that he had acquired much of both in Britain. He had served in many medical colleges in Andhra Pradesh and had joined our college after retirement from government service.

He was so impressive that what he said in one hour on that day is still so deeply etched in my mind that I can reproduce it verbatim even today although many things which I learnt much later have faded from my memory.

Fortunately for us, we had many very great teachers almost in all subjects who were all able stalwarts in their fields to whom we owe all our learning and professional abilities. But Dr VRR, as we all affectionately called him, perhaps by being the first one of them to teach us a difficult subject like Anatomy for a full eighteen months, soon became our favourite.

Beneath his stern exterior he was a very warm and understanding person who was always very sensitive to our problems which he tried to set right with great concern.

***

Once, while on a college trip to Ajanta and Ellora we happened to reach Aurangabad early in the morning after an overnight journey.

We stopped for breakfast at a hotel where the prowess of the cooks somehow could not match the appetite of a busload of hungry youngsters. I decided to do my bit to ease developing tensions by becoming the self-appointed coordinator between the two groups.

Unnoticed by me, Dr VRR, who had been accompanied by his wife Lalitha and his daughter Usha, was watching me closely and after all the students had had their fill he asked me to join them at their table for breakfast. He then asked me where I was from and appreciated my patience and helpful nature.

After our return to Gulbarga he recommended my name for nomination to the students’ council as the representative of the pre-clinical batch. With this beginning, my relationship with him became very close and he would always turn to me whenever some responsibility had to be entrusted to someone.

***

With my interest in writing and photography he used to be very happy to ask for my help in preparing scientific presentations for seminars and conferences.

In those days our college could get this done only by approaching M/s Vaman & Dastur, a firm of photographers on Mouledina Road in Pune which was a rather long and cumbersome process. I used to then process Ekta-chrome slide film along with black and white film in my bathroom which on weekends would do double duty as my darkroom!

With the strong and lingering odours of Metol, Hydroquinone and Sodium Thiosulphate overpowering those of my soap and shampoo, all my friends used to say that on Mondays I would always smell very strange!

Dr VRR although quite friendly with me was always a very unforgiving taskmaster whenever it came to academics and would always keep himself and my parents too updated about my progress as a student. His classes used to be both sessions for the learning of anatomy and also for the inculcation of the essential values required for leading a good life.

During my frequent periods of personal interaction with him he used to tell me all about his life including the time he spent in England in the company of some of the most well- known stalwarts of medical science, especially the trio of embryology: Hamilton, Boyd and Mossman.

I still have a picture of him standing with them which he gave me.

He was invited by the Royal College when he, along with his assistant at the Guntur medical college, Dr G. R. K. Hari Rao, discovered a new blood vessel in the heart which was later named the Rao & Rao Artery.

While working at Kakinada he was the man who dissected and preserved the body of the noted British geneticist J. B. S. Haldane who donated his body for the advancement of science when he died in the year 1964. He was instrumental in creating and developing anatomy museums in most of the medical colleges where he worked.

When I completed my MBBS and it was time for me to leave Gulbarga, Dr VRR invited me home for lunch which his wife and daughter had very painstakingly prepared taking into consideration my favourite dishes. He then gave me a bundle of manuscripts which were his most important notes and his trusted German camera saying, “I think I have no use for them now but I know you will value these.” He could not have been more right.

I have preserved them among my most treasured things even to this day.

***

We were always in touch over the years after that and I would never fail to send him a birthday card every year on the 21st of March. After he lost his wife he settled down at Salem with his daughter Dr Usha Sri who has done a commendable job of looking after him through the ups and downs of old age.

About five years ago when I had to attend a seminar at Yercaud, the hill station near Salem, I called her up and informed her that I would visit them in a couple of days. It appears he was so eager to meet me that he was constantly asking her exactly when I was expected and had insisted that she should prepare my favourite custard which her mother used to prepare and which I used to relish as an young boy.

I visited him with my family and for both of us it was a very emotional reunion.

When we were about to part he smiled and said, “I have taught thousands of students over the years but I cannot expect every one of them to remember me or be in touch with me. But now that one Javeed has come and spoken to me so many years after my retirement, this Ramachandra Rao can die in peace and happiness.”

We visited him a second time a couple of years later with my brother’s family and my mother accompanying us and this time too he was overjoyed. At both these meetings I discovered how much joy a teacher gets when he meets his old students and I think this holds true for every teacher on this earth.

As usual, this year too I called him up on the 21st of March to wish him on his 95th birthday.

He felt very happy talking to me but this time it was a one sided conversation because his already bad hearing had deteriorated so much that he could not understand what I was saying. His daughter Usha said she would convey my good wishes to him and said that the Tirupati Temple authorities in recognition of the contribution of his father Vissa Appa Rao and his father-in-law Veturi Prabhakara Shastri to the field of classical music and Telugu literature would be honouring Dr VRR on the 1st of April at a function in Salem. She said it was his desire that I should be there on that occasion.

***

Three days later there was another phone call and this time the grand old man himself was on the line.

He said, “Javeed, I am already 95. I do not know if I will live long enough to see you again. So I want you to be here for this function with your family. It will make me very happy. I cannot hear what you are going to say but I am sure you have heard what I had to say. Thank you.”

I had heard him right but I had nothing to say. He was my guru and I was his sishya and this is how the relationship had to be between us.

His wish was my command and so I went. It was a very touching occasion. A few other old students who had come there like me narrated their experiences of his generosity and greatness. A few friends had sent me messages on my cell phone which I read out.

The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam (TTD) board had sent two representatives with a citation and a shawl to honour him and much to our surprise he rose to the occasion by making a brief but most impressive speech in reply.

Then turning to me, he clasped both my hands in his and said, “Ah, my favourite student from Gulbarga is here. I feel so proud and happy.”

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: courtesy Star of Mysore

Also read: From Guruswamapalyam, a lesson for all shishyas

FREE: 5 easy ways to a happy, stress-free life

20 February 2012

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: By qualification I am not an expert in stress management. But as a physician I think I see stress and its results on people more often than what most people think. Day in and day out I encounter patients who come to me and complain straight away that they are too stressed up and need some prescription for it.

But for every such patient who knows what his or her problem is, I meet at least ten more who simply do not know that every one of their physical complaints are related to the abnormally high levels of stress they build up as they go about their daily lives.

This stress in disguise can be very detrimental to a healthy and comfortable life and is the cause of many psycho-somatic problems where an over-burdened mind begins to induce disorders like insomnia, hyperacidity, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes in an otherwise healthy body.

***

From the days when I started practice soon after post-graduation, just about 25 years ago to the present day, I have been seeing and treating these stress related problems and I have found that their incidence is increasing by leaps and bounds every passing day.

That is because, from the days when we were cavemen and just hunters and gatherers to the present day where we have become hunters, gatherers, usurpers and accumulators, our life style has gone through a full circle of change.

Now even the most independent and affluent amongst us have just become bonded labourers who work ten times harder than necessary for a nonexistent boss to live just one life. Most of us till we reach the time to retire still continue to slog, trying to create more and more wealth which we will eventually be unable to use to make ourselves happy.

By the time you discover that you have made enough money to start spending it for your pleasure you discover that there is simply no time for you to do it in good health. So in the end you only end up making some doctor or hospital wealthier by it.

When you really come to think of it, we need not really work so hard and burn ourselves up in the process because what we really need to go through this life comfortably does not require so much effort.

I have seen hundreds of people around me who have made millions but who have ended up exiting this world as miserable paupers with their wealth intact and unused. If only they had worked a little less and had taken time off their slogging for a little leisure or to see the world around them they would have been happier and in better health although with a little lesser wealth.

Our obsession with building a cyber world of instant connectivity and communication too, without which we seem to be ill-equipped to survive, has certainly added much to our misery.

I know of many software professionals in metropolitan cities who after a hard day at the office come home tired and weary with a much harder time in the peak hour traffic. They come home not to put their feet up and relax with their loved ones but only to perforce open their laptops to be available online when their counterparts on the other side of the world wake up to interact with them professionally.

When the much-awaited weekend comes they find that they are either too tired to stir out of their homes or too deterred by the weekend rush at every tiny source of recreation.

Many cyber-professionals, as if in response to a conditioned reflex, simply rush to resorts with their families during holidays only to communicate with them in monosyllables without looking up from their laptops while they try to catch up with their work.

However much a person gets paid to work like this, it is all a very brief and pointless game.

It is no different from burning a candle at both ends to get more light but this way we only end up getting darkness twice as fast. Therefore, this game is certainly not worth the candle.

Very recently, a friend of mine sent me a link to an article on the net where a nurse who was in charge of looking after terminally ill patients had revealed what most of them expressed as to what they would have liked to do instead of what they did during their lifetimes.

What she says makes very revealing reading.

She says: “For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who were destined to die as they were suffering from incurable problems. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives. People grow up a lot when they are faced with the prospects of their own death. Each experienced a variety of emotions like denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient when questioned about any regrets he or she had or anything he or she would do differently, invariably came up with these five answers again and again.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not fulfilled even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. But the moment you lose your health, it is too late to do this. Health brings a freedom and opportunity very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. This came from every male patient. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had then not been bread-winners. All of the men deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a me-diocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react sharply when you speak out your mind honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases you from this unhealthy relationship. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Often people would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.

It is common for anyone in a busy life-style to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying. It all co-mes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions as well as their physical lives.

Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their own selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again. When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful it is to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.”

But although very revealing, these last wishes and much belated flashes of wisdom usually do not make sense to most of us until we realise that it is almost time for us to go.

If only we remind ourselves that the whole purpose and happiness of this life lies not at the end of the journey but all along the road, we will all find a completely new meaning and purpose in living. This calls for a new and completely different way of looking at life from an altogether new perspective, perhaps with our feet up and our heads down !

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Also read: Khushwant Singh‘s 11 secrets of a long, happy life

Rushdie: Listen to what the good doctor says

27 January 2012

Looking at all the shrieking and shouting on television (and reading the newspapers), it would seem as if the only people who have a view on the major debates of the day are: a) party spokesman with an agenda, b) fundamentalists with an agenda, c) party spokesmen and fundamentalists with an agenda masquerading as journalists and intellectuals without an agenda, and d) some extras who parrot out the most expected lines.

Communally sensitive issues like the Salman Rushdie episode, the A.K. Ramanujan essay ban, and the flight of M.F. Husain from the land of his birth, show how the nation’s discourse has been hijacked if not usurped by these “usual suspects”. It is as if the common men and women of India—Hindus, Dalits, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs et al—do not matter if they do not have a microphone attached to their lapel pins.

Here, a smalltown doctor pens his thoughts on l’affaire Rushdie.

***

By K. JAVEED NAYEEM

It is sad that, thanks to pure vote bank politics, the controversial writer Salman Rushdie, without being allowed to visit India, was still allowed to stir the already impure and extremely murky waters of Indian politics.

Rushdie’s physical and even virtual participation at the Jaipur literary festival was reportedly cancelled at the last minute after Muslim groups reportedly threatened violence even if his image was shown in a video-conference.

But except for the stray pictures of slogan-shouting Muslims, very appropriately attired for the occasion in skull caps and jubbas, just like film extras, I did not even sense any tremor of opposition from any right thinking Muslims worth their name or salt against his participation at the litfest.

It was only the media which went overboard to give more coverage to Rushdie’s aborted visit to Jaipur, than what it would have perhaps given him if he had actually visited the place and the event.

For a five full days, more Rushdie and less literature was discussed at the litfest, which is indeed a shame.

It is now an established fact that the threat to Rushdie’s life was much magnified, if not fully concocted, by our intelligence agencies and vote-hungry politicians, especially at the Congress-centric government at the Centre and the governments of the two Congress-ruled States of Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

Although he has been allowed to visit the country in the past without any problems, this time these three agencies decided to ban Rushdie’s visit clearly to appease the Muslim voters and impact the outcome of the forthcoming elections in the northern States.

That is why the threats to his life were ‘perceived’ in Bombay, the hub of all our terror threats, by intelligence agencies and conveyed to their counterparts in Rajasthan. Although the former deny their role, the latter reiterate that they have concrete evidence of the same.

The DGP of Maharashtra has said that they had not provided any input to Rajasthan in this regard while the Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot has insisted that his government had received six messages from them about the threat.

Rushdie has no doubt faced death threats from fundamentalists ever since he wrote the controversial book but to give importance to the largely imaginary story that hired assassins were going to kill him in Jaipur this time shows how low even governments can stoop for imaginary vote banks.

It actually portrays our security preparedness in rather poor and unflattering light.

The man has actually derived much mileage from being controversial and our government does not realise that it has just augmented it.

The organisers of the Jaipur literary festival would certainly have known that his visit could spark protests and should have acted with a little more common sense and foresight before inviting him. The government too should have conveyed this possibility to the organisers since the visit was not at all a closely guarded secret.

Inviting Rushdie to the festival was clearly a very reckless and irresponsible act as it would have painted the whole of India in very bad light if something untoward had happened.

That there is much vote-bank politics behind this whole issue is eminently clear from the utterances of Sheila Dixit, the chief minister of New Delhi two days ago. Earlier in the day, she had told reporters that “one may have differences with what Rushdie writes, but he’s a very eminent writer and a Booker Prize winner who was welcome to visit Delhi.”

Barely hours after she praised him as a gifted writer she changed her mind. Her office issued a retraction stating that there is no question of welcoming the author of the banned “Satanic Verses.”

This sudden turn-around could only have been the result of a sharp rap on the elderly lady’s knuckles by her much younger lady mentor who undoubtedly wields the baton and the sceptre too.

In reality, banning his book has not prevented any determined readers from reading it. It has been always available to all and sundry except to our government from the black market. In five minutes it can be downloaded from the net and this can never be prevented by any kind of ban.

I certainly was very eager to find out what was bad in it and I found out very quickly too when I could borrow a copy from one of my teachers just a few days after it was proscribed. Since I have read everything that Rushdie has written, I feel it is not the ability to write well but his tendency to stamp on others’ toes deliberately which has made him famous.

This habit is the forte of all those without real talent. I do not endorse anyone making fun of Gods and Goddesses or revered personalities or the sacred texts of any religion. I have therefore also been very critical of M. F. Husain’s portrayal of Hindu deities in poor taste.

As a Muslim I would like to reiterate that The Satanic Verses, a work of fiction penned by Rushdie, certainly cannot shake our faith.

The history of Islam is full of instances where the prophet was subjected to much harsher criticism, including being dubbed an imposter for many years. But at no point of time was he ruffled one bit by such opposition or condemnation. He calmly went about his work with full conviction that what he was doing was in accordance with what Allah had ordained for him.

Let me reassure all Indians and all those anywhere in the world, who think that Indian Muslims are even slightly preoccupied with this Jaipur event, that I do not see it as anything more than a ripple on the surface of Indian politics.

It will certainly not shake our composure or patriotism.

It is actually time now for both Muslims and Hindus alike to rise much higher than being perturbed by what the Rushdies and Husains do in their free time.

This time a tottering Rushdie whose ink has dried up, has only used a lame excuse very conveniently to avoid attending an event which he was just frightened of attending like a timid boy. Let us not offer him a Jaipur foot to enter our minds and disturb our mindset.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Photograph: Sir Salman Rushdie with television anchor Barkha Dutt at the Jaipur literary festival in 2007 (courtesy Shelly Jain)

Also read: A Hindu iftar for a good Muslim doctor at work

All terror can be traced to injustice, inequality

The most difficult to cross is in your mind

Doctor’s prescription for a Happy New Year: Free

30 December 2011

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: A brand new year is standing at our threshold, all set to enter our lives. Or, maybe I should say that we are standing at its threshold, a little eagerly if not impatiently to see what it holds for us.

Although a year seems like a very long time, the years nevertheless march quietly but quite fast and before we realise it, a full year is gone in what seems like no time at all. Suddenly, we find that we have all grown a year older.

It is rightly said that ‘Time, like a fistful of sand, slips through our fingers while we stand and wonder what to do with it.’

Tomorrow evening or the evening the day after, depending on which side of the globe they live in, most people will be spending much time and money and sacrificing much sleep too, in the process of welcoming the new year.

This tradition of ushering in a new calendar year is often just an excuse to indulge in a little late-night partying which actually needs no excuse at all if we have the time and money for it along with a handful of willing friends.

To tell you the truth, I have never ever celebrated the arrival of any New Year in my life although I have seen a good many new years now. I don’t think any of my friends, either tipsy or sober, can recall seeing me at any New Year celebration simply because I refuse to be drawn into the celebration of an event which I do not consider eventful.

To me, a New Year is simply the time when I have to be a little extra careful in making sure that I write the correct year while writing the date after every prescription which fetches my bread and butter!

***

New Year is the time when most of us make new resolutions about how we should put our lives in order and live in a more organised manner.

Again, living in a very organised manner is something I can never do. This is a resolution I make every day and break it the very next, simply because I see so much convenience in the chaos that others see around me either in my work place or in what I call my study at home.

This love for having everything that I may need or not need around me at an arm’s length, at all times would have left my home a complete shambles were it not for the constant efforts of my wife who has stood all these years like a steadfast dike between the surging sea of my disorderliness and her unyielding intolerance for it.

Now, coming back to the topic of ushering in the New Year, although we all know that we invariably end up breaking them much sooner than later we nevertheless continue to make New Year resolutions year after year.

Thankfully, I am proud and happy to say that I have never ever broken a single New Year resolution in all my life. This is not because I happen to have an unusually resolute will power but simply because I have never ever made any New Year resolutions in my life!

But since I know that most people would be making their New Year resolutions I would like to tell them that they would do well to do it a little differently this year.

***

Since I happen to be a practicing doctor you may even consider this advice as a prescription of sorts that comes free as a New Year gift. And, I would like you all to try very hard and see that you do not break this one resolution even if you end up breaking many others.

These days I find that most people are earning more than what many of us used to earn in the past. Although most people somehow invariably imagine the possession of ‘easy money’ to be the good fortune only of software engineers, I would like to point out that people of many other professions too are earning very well these days.

And surprisingly, quite a few of them happen to be devoid of any formal education let alone the professional qualifications that we think are most essential for a good income.

For all those for whom the going is good, money is aplenty today. Thanks to good incomes and easy availability of bank loans most people who could in the past never even dream of owning them have now started acquiring all the luxuries of life like well-equipped homes and slick cars quite early in life.

But I find that while most people manage to have everything that should make life easy and convenient they somehow never have the inclination or time to enjoy life in a way that makes their families happy.

These days, as a doctor, I find so many affluent people coming to me with symptoms that are just signs of stress arising out of a lack of time to be happy and relaxed.

They have the money and even eagerness to get the most expensive tests done that invariably turn out negative results for all the ailments they imagine, thanks to the generous, albeit often incorrect advice from the internet but they fail to understand what their bodies and minds are trying to tell them in words loud and clear.

I find much marital discord among very young couples who tend to flare up at the slightest provocation.

While lack of sleep and sexual disorders are what most young males complain of, intractable chest pain, giddiness and unexplained weakness is what bothers their spouses. Hyperacidity, which is a completely preventable problem, stalks both.

These days, like my other professional colleagues I have been seeing a sharp upsurge in the number of young diabetics and hyper-tensives among urban patients.

I find unusually bright and otherwise cheerful children presenting with symptoms like recurring abdominal pain, headache, lack of concentration and increased frequency of urination which are symptoms that simply do not belong to their ages.

With joint families fast becoming extinct and both parents often tied up in demanding jobs most children these days find no one to turn to for their emotional needs. The result is that stress invariably steps in unnoticed, leading to behavioural problems that need prolonged counselling.

Children are no longer able to return from school and hop into the laps of indulgent grandparents to listen to their favourite stories. The television and the computer have now become grandpa and grandma for our children, making dazed zombies out of even the liveliest kids.

If we can all resolve this New Year, to take time off from our busy lives and change this rather sad picture for good, I think we would have made the best New Year resolution for all time to come.

Have a great New Year.

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Illustration: courtesy Nasir Khan

In the jungle of Indian roads, “L” board is king

9 December 2011

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: I have never driven a car with an ‘L’ board at any time in the past, including the almost forgotten time when I was learning to drive, nearly forty years ago.

This is for the simple reason that by the time I was old enough to apply for a driving licence I was already driving pretty well, having learnt the art in a WW II vintage Jeep on the slushy private roads of our coffee estate much before it was legal for me to drive on public roads.

This perhaps explains the fact that even now I drive better on bad roads rather than on good ones!

So, after I took my learner’s licence I was quickly allowed to take my permanent licence in just a week’s time as there was no rule then that it could be issued only afer a period of one full month as it is now. But nearly 40 years after I got my driving licence I now find myself driving a small car with large ‘L’ boards prominently displayed both on the wind-screen and the rear glass.

The reason for this is not because I am re-learning the art of driving, although, with the rapidly changing traffic scenario, most of us perhaps need a refresher course in driving but because my daughter Sarah is now in the process of acquiring one. But since we have just one small car that is most ideally suited for city use I am forced to share it with my children for my needs too.

My son, Adnan, who has just finished getting his permanent licence and who loves driving and devouring tandoori chicken more than doing anything else, simply considers it infra-dig to be seen driving a car with an ‘L’ board. For his commuting needs he now finds some excuse or the other to commandeer and use one of our larger cars which do not sport the despicable board he detests.

But I have discovered rather quickly that while driving a car with an ‘L’ board at this age certainly raises some eyebrows, it also has its own advantages. The most important one is that even in heavy traffic, other road users including even the most valiant daredevils, now take care to stay clear of my car which gives me the right of way at every intersection and traffic signal.

Even City bus drivers who usually rule our roads by laying down their own rules and breaking all others, have now stopped honking from behind me as they normally do even before the lights turn green. In case an occasional one still honks, ignoring my ‘L’ board, I have now perfected the art of getting my car stalled helplessly after a couple of brisk jerks, like a perfect greenhorn to buy time till the light changes colour.

The second and perhaps more pleasant outcome of sporting an ‘L’ board is that most other learners when they pass by my car now nod and smile at me in a spirit of camaradiere and brotherhood and also perhaps with the pleasure of seeing a person much older than them being in their league.

I have my share of pleasure too from this courtesy because, for some inexplicable reason, most learners happen to be pretty girls who would otherwise never even turn and look at a much older man, let alone flash a smile at him. I therefore feel like continuing to drive a car with an ‘L’ board till I retire from driving, which I do not intend to do in a hurry despite the rather daunting present day traffic conditions.

In fact I am now seriously considering putting up larger than required ‘L’ boards on all the cars that I happen to drive. This will also dissuade my ‘driveoholic’ son from quickly occupying the driving seat whenever we venture out, as he does now, despite my best efforts to beat him to it.

I no longer tell people that it is not me who is the learner but my daughter for whose sake I have put up the ‘L’ board. It is pointless as they all invariably think that I am just saving my face, unable to face the embarrassment of being such a late learner.

Once as I was carefully manoevouring my car out of a slightly tight parking slot at a shopping mall, two autorickshaw drivers who were sipping their cuppa at the nearby tea stall quickly came over and stood on either side of my reversing car to guide me out of what they thought was a predicament.

While one was telling me to first turn the steering wheel to the right a wee bit and then turn it sharply to the left, his friend was saying just the opposite. Naturally this disagreement over how I should be guided out of a situation that was actually not one bit difficult for me, led them into a debate, with both of them accusing one another of being stupid and foolish.

I do not know how long the verbal duel lasted or how it ended as I drove out of the place without bothering to wait for a third person to butt in and pass judgement.

But when I visited the same place in a different and a much bigger car a few days later, one of the two debators who happened to be there, walked up to me with a smile and said “Saar, manmanne taane driving kaltideeree, isht bega isht dodda car yak sir thokondri? Inswalpa dina aa haley car ye ittakondidre channagirthittu nimage.” (Sir, till a few days ago you were still learning to drive. Why did you buy such a big car so soon? You would have been better off using your old car for a few more days).

Last week, after finishing my rounds at one of the hospitals I visit, as I was walking up to my car, I noticed an autorickshaw taking a fast U-turn and brushing the rear bumper of my car. I stopped it and asked the driver whether it was necessary for him to be so fast and careless.

With a rare smile that he had perhaps saved for an occasion just like this, he said that it was inevitable as I had parked my car at a wrong angle. He hastened to add that it was an excusable mistake as I was still a learner!

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column for Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)

Also read: Once upon a time, when Ideal Jawa was Roadking

A Hindu Iftar for a good Muslim doctor at work

6 August 2011

A 2008 image of Mysore deputy commissioner P. Manivannan at an Iftar at the Muslim girls’ orphanage

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: The holy month of Ramzan, which is the harbinger of much happiness and good cheer to Muslims the world over, has come. This month marks a period of fasting, alms-giving and special prayers which Muslims all over the world undertake as ordained by Allah in a bid to cleanse and rejuvenate their souls.

All Muslims believe that it is a very pious and spiritually rewarding act to provide food for anyone at Iftar, the time when people break their fasts immediately after sunset.

So it is a common tradition among Muslims to arrange Iftar parties for their friends and relatives by turns which become occasions not only to enrich their souls but for happy socialising too. Many well-to-do Muslims with noble intentions arrange such parties to feed the poor too.

But we have been discovering of late that a new breed of politically motivated Iftar parties are becoming commonplace not with the object of winning any spiritual rewards but with the motive of winning the hearts of Muslim vote-banks.

While the head of a Muslim seminary has recently issued a fatwa or religious edict that Muslims should not attend such politically motivated Iftars he has been reminded almost immediately by many Muslim organisations through a fusillade of repartees that he has no locus standi to issue it.

Since everything is fair in love, war and politics there is nothing anyone can do about this unholy trend and I am sure it is here to stay and reap its earthly rewards.

But I would like to highlight here a different kind of Iftar party of which I have been a beneficiary for the past so many years and the kind of which we need to encourage to foster brotherliness and inter-religious harmony at a time when these qualities seem very elusive and intangible.

Every Tuesday I have my weekly outdoor clinic at the town of Kollegal which is a rather long drawn affair that goes on till late in the night. This has been a tradition that I have chosen not to abandon after I had to wind up my regular practice there nearly nine years ago when I had to move over to Mysore in search of higher education for my children.

Every Tuesday, unfailingly, during every Ramzan, O.P. Mahesh Kumar and Jagadish, my two Hindu friends there have insisted and ensured that I along with my clinic staff break our fasts with the freshly cooked, piping hot food they bring from their homes just before sunset.

They are ordinary souls of modest means with neither motive nor ambition but they do so with simple love and affection. Now, how is that for a really pious and holy act?

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician, who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where a longer version of this piece originally appeared)

Representative photograph: Mysore deputy commissioner P. Manivannan at an iftar at the Muslim girls’ orphanage in 2008 (courtesy The Hindu)

Quick! What do you think is wrong with this pic?

1 March 2011

The tenth edition of the cricket World Cup opened ten days ago in Dhaka, with the usual glitzy song-dance-laser junk that passes of as “local culture”. Captain after captain of the competing teams arrived in cycle-rickshaws for the benefit of the cameras, taking the “spectacle” around the world.

The logic of the hosts and the organisers of the tournament, the International Cricket Council (ICC),  obviously was to showcase a slice of Bangladesh that is a familiar cliche around the world. And doubtless millions of viewers made some “connect” with the sight on their TV screens and in their newspapers.

All except, it seems, K. Javeed Nayeem.

The Mysore-based physician, who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, wrote on February 18:

“When I saw a picture of Mahendra Singh Dhoni sitting with a young usher and riding a ‘man-powered’ rickshaw at the inaugural ceremony, I wondered what response it would draw from the world community that has been pressing over the years for the abolition of this form of demeaning transport, which is almost the trademark of life in Bangladesh and which still persists in many parts of our country too.”

World Community? Response?

Well, do a search on a search engine of your choice and you will notice, ten days later, that there has been little or no outcry over the cycle-rickshaws as a prop. Proof that the world has better things to do than worry about some poor cycle-rickshaw wallah earning a few bucks? Proof that cycle-rickshaws are, maybe, OK?

Or proof that there is a limit to such a thing as political correctness in the supposedly wired, connected, globalised world?

Also read: CHURUMURI POLL: Does the World Cup excite you?

Water melons, threshers and the World Cup

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A cradle of civilisation, at its peak or its nadir?

28 January 2011

K. JAVEED NAYEEM writes: Our 62nd Republic Day dawned with the morning newspaper announcing—or more appropriately, screaming out—the news of the brutal lynching just a day before, of a sincere and committed public servant holding the high office of additional district collector in the not-so-distant Maharashtra.

As I picked up the paper which was lying on my porch, itself doubled up like a limp and lifeless corpse, and glanced at the headlines, the stark reality of what our country had come to hit me like a sledge hammer and a wave of disgust and outrage swept over me.

Our Republic Day, which shares its importance in equal measure with our Independence Day and which in fact surpasses it on a few counts, should have served as a proud annual reminder of how to govern ourselves better. We gave ourselves a Constitution that would uphold the rule of the law and dispense fair justice for every Indian.

Every Indian young or old, rich or poor, literate or illiterate, irrespective of his or her caste, creed, colour and social status, stands covered under its protection. It is a Constitution which has few equals today even among the most advanced countries many of which cannot even talk, let alone boast of a written Constitution.

Despite holding this sacrosanct commandment aloft to remind the world of our greatness, what are we reminded of, day in and day out, as we go about our daily lives?

Are we able to say proudly that we have all been abiding by all the provisions enshrined in it?

I am afraid not.

Yes, we have some of the best written laws that should do justice to our claim to being a great nation but are we doing justice to our Constitution by following it in letter and spirit?

I am afraid not.

The high and mighty amongst us have no accountability whatsoever and have nothing to fear. The law is a deterrent only to the handful of those who fear it while all the ones who thumb their noses at it can go about their evil deeds, undeterred.

It is a deterrent to the lowly office clerk or village accountant who surreptitiously holds his hand under the table for transferring a title deed from a dead farmer to his son but it does not deter the neta who collects suitcases full of money to transfer thousands of acres of land illegally to land sharks.

Today, by our own willingness to be sucked into it, we are helplessly trapped in a whirlpool of mafias. There is a land mafia, a loan mafia, a coal mafia, an oil mafia and a job mafia to name just a few of the scores of organised murky activities that thrive unhindered, eating away at the innards of our prosperity and respectability.

Our leaders who are suppo-sed to set an example of honesty are the best examples of the highest kind of dishonesty.

They live perpetually on the payroll of the kings of crime and depend so heavily on the huge sums of money doled out by them to win elections on false promises. In turn they promise to twist the neck of our legal system to make it look the other way while their mentors rule the roost.

We, the educated citizens who consider ourselves enlightened enough to know what is good and what is bad, cast our votes blindfolded in favour of candidates guided not by a sense of fairness but only by considerations of caste and community. And, when the election results come we hold newspapers in our hands and bemoan what our country is coming to because of how the poor, illiterate masses vote under the influence of money and cheap liquor.

Have we stopped to ponder what is happening to the social fabric of our country by our abject disregard for our Constitution? This only garment of respectability which we have been wearing is now virtually ripped to shreds, almost laying bare in its entirety our savage nakedness to the eyes of the entire world.

The ease with which the officer in Maharashtra was doused with petrol and set aflame on the roadside in broad daylight with dozens of onlookers simply watching the macabre act helplessly, speaks of two chilling things.

# One, it screams out aloud that our complex administrative machinery has buckled under the brute force of the Frankenstein that we have ourselves created by our ever increasing tolerance and acceptance of corruption as a necessary and convenient evil.

# Second, when you consider the inaction with which the mute bystanders chose to just stand and watch, it tells us in hushed whispers that with the law crippled by a total lack of honesty and commitment, the safest thing to do in any dangerous situation, if it does not concern you directly, is to mind your own business.

I wonder why the helpless man, who certainly must have been familiar with the ways of the underworld, did not think of first summoning the help of the forces at his command before venturing to question what some of its kingpins were doing.

We call ourselves civilised and announce to the rest of the world that we were the ones who first rocked the cradle of civilisation. We also claim to be riding on the wave of a cultural and economic revolution right now. But it is significant to note here that every wave has a nadir and a peak.

I am tempted to ask at which one of these two points on this wave do we Indians stand today?

(K. Javeed Nayeem is a practising physician who writes a weekly column in Star of Mysore, where this piece originally appeared)


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