Archive for June 27, 2006

CLINICALLY CYNICAL

I stood there, drenched in sweat waiting for the line to move, this Sunday. The prospect of being late for a crucial meeting was bearing heavily on my perplexed mind. I looked at the watch, concentrating enough to stop the “second hand”, just for an hour maybe. He walked up to me then, a gruffly looking man and asked me if I could buy him a ticket. I looked behind me, the line was endless. In the next few seconds, “urgent” and “emergency” were the only words comprehensible. I asked the man to get in line, like everyone else, to get his ticket. I looked away, I could not see him in the eye you see.

I thought about this incident, seated on my complimentary railway massage chairs (if only they could buffer the noise) and I felt terrible, my conscience sticking a dirty fork in my calloused cold heart. What if it was a genuine emergency, he looked sincere enough? It couldn’t have hurt me, just another ticket right?

I thought of the time my friend was in a similar situation and he was denied. “Insensitive bastards” I had said, spewing bile on their outrageous behaviour. I was outraged at then, as I am outraged now. But this time, I am on the other side of the line. I shifted focus to my watch again, hoping to turn back time. I had another reason.

When did I become so cynical? Why is it so easy to expect the worst out of people? Like every one is out to get us, take advantage of our “good hearts” and be proud of their miniscule con. The root of my lack of faith in humanity came about two years ago when I gave an old man with two very vulnerable children by his side, some money, to be told later by the railway canteen guy (the good Samaritan watched silently as I plundered my money, only to scoff at my intelligence later) that I had been conned. The old guy did this every alternate day and probably would make 200-500 bucks a day. Wow, unemployed gullible fool – 0, street smart entrepreneur – 1. This is when I decided no more reckless charity. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

I have had some good experiences too, where someone helped me out in my time of need. With a faltering road sense and absolute ignorance of Bombay’s topography, I am very much dependant on the expertise of chaiwallas and PCO, to find my way around. I am thankful of their generous nature. But I am sure that most of us are happy to give directions as opposed to doing unsolicited favours especially when it is at the cost of our time. The view that every one who approaches us has a hidden agenda is probably gnawing at the root of our little left, long-forgotten trust.

The barrage of salesmen, telemarketers, baniyas and bhajiwallas that we have to deal with can make anyone relinquish their sanctity in human honesty. The violent collage of vested interests, murderers and ill-natured impotent officials, tempered and concentrated to their minute flaws and aptly but over zealously represented in the media, can make anyone shudder and reaffirm their belief in the monsters that reside in all of us, waiting to strike. Of course, I don’t suggest that we manically start accepting every thing that we are told. But once in a while it wouldn’t hurt to do a bit of pure rational good while not expecting anything in return, the kind that is supposed to boost our karmic points. Like giving up train seats for pregnant ladies and little children, maybe for anyone else after a fair distance, instead of gluing our bottoms to the beloved kursi ala sticky politicians. Help a person who looks lost, a visually challenged individual to cross the road or any other person in obvious need of assistance. It is time we shrug away our indifference and get involved, in mohalla committees and as citizen volunteers. It is easy to be cynical, but difficult to make a difference.

I had gone to Sophia’s on my umpteenth admission-form-filling spree and was asked to go to the next gate, about 100 yards at least, from the first where my cabbie had dropped me. As I walked in scorching summer heat, cursing my luck, I heard rude honking behind me. Stoking the fire in the belly of the beast, aggravating my low threshold for loud horns, I turned back in fury with my best glaring eyes, squinting in the sun. The cab guy asked me to get in, diligently swearing at the “chu…” watchman and dropped me at the next gate, for free. I was taken aback by this generous gesture and his parting words put a smile on my face, “Beta, sambahlke jana, yahan koi kisiki madad nahin karta.” (Take care son, nobody helps anyone here) I felt it to be imperative that I conclude with a semblance of hope. It is desperately required.

p.s. I do not intend to preach, just hope to remind.

EUPHEMISTIC EUTHANASIA

So proud she was to die
It made us all ashamed
That what we cherished, so unknown
To her desire seemed.

So satisfied to go
Where none of us should be,
Immediately, that anguish stooped
Almost to jealousy.

Emily Dickinson.

Seven summers ago, in am attempt to elude boredom on a lazy afternoon, I remember, I came across a seemingly frivolous read called ‘Martin’. On the onset it looked deceptively innocent but its influence would change my perception of life, and death, later on.

It is a story of the travails of a mother (also the author, whose name I have consequently misplaced in my disorganized mind) in raising Martin, who suffer from cancer, but is immensely passionate about life. As the book progressed it became obvious that he would not make it. To ease his pain and anguish his mother seeks deliverance for her child by letting him go, they euthanate him.

This was my first encounter with the concept of euthanasia . My untrained mind was perplexed as to how a decision could be taken to terminate a human life and by his own mother at that. Being the circumstantial idealist that I am, it seemed imperative that all should have been done to keep Martin alive, even if it seemed abortive and futile.

We all have the right to decide the course of our lives and so also, some argue, of our demise. Faced with the prospect of being indefinitely comatose or relegated to an incorrigible vegetative state, many would choose to be relieved from their ephemeral compulsion of being alive. Here, one could argue that ‘to exist’ is distinctly incongruent to ‘being alive’ and would not be sufficient to constitute as life. As India moves a step closer to formally debate the validity of euthanasia and its relevance in today’s society, the apprehensions regarding its misuse could not have been more conspicuous.

As Indians we are very much aware of our mortality either through our scriptures or daily news. The concept of euthanasia (eu=good , thanates= death) is not alien to our culture as indicated in Bhishmapitahma’s insistence of icchamaran. Euthanasia was practised if a person could not perform his religious rituals due to old age or had been suffering from some incurable disease. Even the method to be adopted for dying was described; the person must burn himself in a pile of dried cow dung cakes or drown himself in the holy river. Jainism practised another kind of euthanasia called Santharo in which a person forsakes food and water and starves himself to death. Even today the practice is in vogue. Which are known concepts, if I may cite, refuting the categorial reasoning of certain circumspect individuals that we are not civilized enough as a society to incorporate such a sensitive choice. In India, where medical care is grossly undermined and overstretched, the logical paradigm to relinquish a bed for another who has a better chance of survival is appealing. Also, the pain and suffering caused to the patient himself and close ones, which would be magnified if complexed with economic constraints, can be pacified if not completely vanquished.

The emotional and spiritual strength required to decide the finality of a loved one’s life, as opposed to one’s own, is unimaginable. I wonder whether the person faced with this unfortunate decision can ever be fully convinced of the validity of it, however humane it may seem. Does the guilt ever cease, would there be a state of perpetual remorse bearing heavy on one’s soul? Also, can the judgment of another human be trusted; after all we pride ourselves in being fallible. A person who wishes to be euthanated can find reason in self-determination and choice, but what would be its effect on the psyche of a young child or an ailing father. Is it fair to escape?

The case of Dr. Kevorkian is enough to discourage any inclination towards euthanasia. The prospect of mal treatment is daunting; the avenues of manipulating this practice are significantly alarming. The emergence of hospices and palliative care as an alternative rehabilitate and provide proper care to people who are hopelessly challenged and running against time, is a boon to ease the sting of timed death. By the use of prescribed drugs, opiates included, the pain of living is relatively eased. But again, such facilities can be afforded only by the obscurely rich.

The basic premise of such a right cannot be generalized as it is an intensely private matter and it should be acknowledged in due light. The introduction of such a delicate right needs to be regulated, not by indifferent bureaucrats, but through varying levels of checks pertaining to the intentions behind such a request and which should be sanctioned by the highest court. The appalling loopholes in the highly criticised texas fultile care law are anything but exemplary. Also, I think alternate avenues should be explored in such an eventuality such as hospices, which are dedicated to make the transition easier. After all, we do take our transcendence very seriously.

( the link is an article published in The Hindu regarding the recent verdict by the Kerala high court on euthanasia)

PARITRANA

It is probably a bit late in the day to speak about the phenomenon that paritrana has become, or atleast made out to be in the blogworld and electronic media. It has been a while since they were in the news. The initial exictement generated by this party of five IIT-ans has evaporated just as fast as Juniour Mahajan’s political career. The mainstream media seems to be perfecting their yo-yo act especially when it comes to promising and educated political outfits.

Paritrana as a party has to prove it’s political mettle before it can be taken seriously. But what is surprising to me that not many students and youth in general seem to be aware of this transition in the state of Indian politics. I envisioned pomp and aplomb when urban youth would hear of students, and iit-ans at that, have ventured in active politics. One can blame it on the usual, cliched causes such as political apathy among the youth, disillusionment, unwillingness to take on the system, et al. But what is completely shocking is the majority of people I have come across haven’t even heard of this “youth party for 21st century Bharat.” And those who have heard or read about it in the media are uncharacteristically indifferent.

I don’t know anyone from this party and my basis of knowledge is their website and random blog searches on various amateur publishing platforms. Yes it is true that they are still in their nascent stage and with, I guess, not much political backing, so their priorities would be to expand their base in terms of public support and financial aid. The understanding that it would take a couple of years to gain a strong foothold in India’s electoral politics is practical and modest which implies that these guys are fully aware of their responsibilities.

Paritarana was registered as a political party this February, so it has been only 4 odd months since they were baptised in the sewage of Indian political system, as it is widely percieved. In the last few months, the reservation fire was stoked by a couple of medical students who dared to stand up for what they believed in which gave rise to another organisation, non-political though, called Youth For Equality. This sensitive issue which led to protests, hunger strikes and widespread display of angst against a inept and short-sighted government policy by the students saw no strong political backing. I wonder what kept them from joining in the protests more vociferously, agitating strongly against it. They did have a press release ascribing importance to meritocracy but again not much was heard or noted in the mainstream media.

It’s ideology is promising and they have their hearts in the right place. Most of their objectives at a level seem utopian but with a fair amount of understanding in what goes into achieving them. A well structured organisational paradigm with corporate style functioning is alluring and immensely satisfying as it indicates the arrival of the next generation of political class which today’s youth can relate to. As of now the reach of their voice seems to be limited to internet-yuppies and blog-fanatics, the cyberspace in general. But yes as time progresses I am sure that this movement will gain momentum as the notion of a youth driven party making a change in the rusty annals of Indian political system is very appealing and befitting considering the fact that 60% of the population is below the age of 40.

How much can they achieve, will they be able to convert goodwill into electoral sucess is anybody’s guess, but the general perception of politics is about to change. With young blood hopefully there will be a new and progressive vision. It remains to be seen whether they can withstand the fickle nature of an Indian voter, until then I wish them goodluck. I have a feeling they are going to need it.

The link below is an interesting interview of Chandrshekhar, the national treasurer of Paritrana, by Vikas choudary, a blogger.