Many years back, there was a person. Very close to me. Not a relative. Not a close friend. But someone who I knew and adored for his passion and energy. He had started a new company. Healthcare consulting.
He trusted me. I trusted him. We met over coffee. To discuss his new company. He had just received his first grant. 250K $. And therefore it was his treat.
Coffee done. Pastry eaten. I said ‘ Well then. Good luck.’ He smiled and said. ‘Did you think the coffee and the cake was for free? Huh!! You may pay too. Give me some guidance on how you would have run the company had you been in my place.’
This was not what I had expected. But he was insistent. So I said ‘ Well, order another coffee then. Latte with double shot. Let us discuss them.’
This is what came in our conversation. I told him that I would have followed a 4-C approach.
First. Build capacity. The 250 K is a very small funding. Nothing compared to the scale I dream for. Therefore, I would have transparently discussed on using some of this fund for capacity building of my team. To prepare the team to develop proposals and execute projects better. Most importantly to learn how to document well. Capacity building. In these aspects.
Second. Be creative. Even if the magnitude is small, I would encourage the team to do something innovative. Be creative in thinking. An innovation that will be picked up by us in future projects or by others in other projects. But every work that we do must have some element of original thinking. Creativity.
Third. Make connections. Nothing can be done alone. Connections are critical. Connections for complementary work. Connections for collaboration. Explore multiple partners. Find those that are complimentary. Then connect. With connection the power is manifold. Connect.
Fourth. And this one would be most important for me and my team. Be courageous. Every new idea. Every new thought. Needs courage to express. When you have to express your idea. Your thought. Never be scared. Be courageous.
So four things. 4Cs. For my company. If I ever have any. Build capacity. Be creative. Make connections. Be courageous.
The guy was happy I think. He ordered a mutton patties for me. His way of thanking. I loved it.
As a footnote, I must write. I have not started a company. And will probably never. And the guy and his company is doing moderate. All he did except I think he was not courageous enough. It is the most difficult of the 4 Cs. Particularly when you are at the receiving end.
There are many who I know personally who are publicly vocal against the lamp lighting ceremony today.
For many of them I have high respect. Because I know their scientific and rational bend of mind. I know they love their Country no less than any other.
Yet. Today they choose to criticise the call by Prime Minister. And they decided not to participate in the activity.
Firstly, I salute them for their courage. In today’s India. In these very trying times it takes courage to be a critic. Not everyone is courageous to speak his or her mind. Those colleagues of mine who speak against this with their deep knowledge of science and social science. I respect them for they speak their mind withstanding criticism.
I do not challenge them either. Who am I to challenge these friends of mine who I know are most rational in their thinking, love the Nation as much as I do and think above politics. And in times ordinary, these friends of mine participate in Nation building as much as any other Indian does. If not more.
So, I ask myself. Why did I participate?
When I know the three broad questions that these critics, my friends ask.
1: What good will lamp lighting do? This is a coverup to distract a billion mind away from the real issue. The lack of resources. The unpreparedness.
2: It is almost unethical given that so many lives have been lost and the economically weak are in deep distress.
3: The PM said to light lamps. Some citizens burst crackers too. This is defeating the whole purpose. People are celebrating when they should more focus on bracing for a tragedy to come.
I do not refute any of these. All of the above have elements of thought in it.
Yet I and my family celebrated.
We celebrated because:
1: We wanted to be one again as a community with loud cheer from children from their balconies. Children do not come to the park anymore. We miss them. They all came out today. They clapped. They cheered. They sang the National Anthem. Mousumi and I felt very happy. We were deeply hungry for this happiness. We were missing the laughter of children of our society.
2: I am reading a lot on the fallout of Covid 19 in short and long term. One prediction is that this will heavily impact mental health. People are increasingly getting into the phase of loneliness. In a country like India where social connections are about prime driver, the adda, the gup-sup, the bakwas party, the hang outs, we are beginning to feel the brunt of distancing. Netflix is no solution. Nor is Facebook. Skype and Teams. We are no more beting able to shout at each other ‘abbé gale lag ja’ or able to click our coffee cups and daru-glasses. Today as I had expected we saw each other on balconies. Some waved. I felt good.
I know we have not made one step forward today in fighting the Coronavirus by lighting a million lamps. But today, we have felt together one as a Nation. A Nation together. Present. In balconies. In front of houses. Resilient. Together. Fighting back.
Mousumi and I celebrated for a selfish reason. To see my neighbours. To hear cheering voices of children. And to come out of loneliness.
‘Today is your first day as House Physician. A full fledged doctor. Will you not wear a new shirt to work today?’ He asked. My father. On his cane chair. Glancing through Anandabazar Patrika. As I left for my first day of duty. As House Staff. Shambhu Nath Pandit Hospital.
I was a Charminar smoking, Guevara swearing , Mao eulogising youth from Bengal. I scoffed. I frowned. I shook my head. I said ‘No’ softly ( because it was he, my father ) and touched his feet. A custom before a special occasion. A culture. To me, I said ‘What is in a shirt, that we call a shirt, by any other name would have been a mere wear.’
My father also said ‘But today. At least you could wear.’ I said ‘No’. To me, I said ‘Pari Burjoa byapar-syapar jotto sob.’ Ma was there too. As I touched her feet, she said ‘Mithu, Baba bolche. Ak bar dakho na.’
I shook my head. And moved on. Late evening. I returned. From Hospital. Baba was in the drawing room on his cane chair. He asked ‘How was your day?’ I sat. Over tea. I told him all about the day. He listened to everything intently.
All done. I went for bath. Bath done. I opened my almirah. For a new payjama and a vest.
On top of the few shirts and trousers I had then, there was a cream coloured shirt. New. I pulled it down.
This was a shirt my father had bought for me to wear on my first day as a doctor. A surprise.
I had ruined his pleasure. I had deprived him of the pleasure of witnessing the sparkle of joy in his son’s eyes. On opening the cupboard. Morning. I wanted to run and embrace him. And tell him how sorry I was. But that would be too dramatic. I was too vain. And my father too prosaic for such drama.
A guilt I shall live with.
I remembered the above incident because I watched a movie yesterday which had a similar story.
A youth was going away from home. To a distant city for work. From a modest income family. As he was to leave, his father said ‘Open your trunk. I want to check .’ The youth refused. He was bitter that his father suspected. His honesty. He left without the customary greetings. After he reached his city, still bitter from his father’s suspicion, he sat down to unpack. As he opened his trunk. Lo and behold, on top of it all was a box. In it a watch. The family’s only fortune. A gold plated watch. A note. ‘ If in distress, with no sadness, sell.’
The child in the youth cried.
And legend has it that he ran all the way back to embrace his father. To say ‘Sorry’ . For he had deprived his father. Of the pleasure.
Love is a mystery. More mysterious is the way in which the mystery manifests.
Allow me to introduce you to Gavin de Becker. De Becker is a global expert in prediction and management of violence. He and his firm have provided security to world leaders including US President. Considered a global authority on the subject of threat assessment, he teaches at University of California and chairs many boards on security and terrorism. You can learn more of his work at https://gdba.com/.
De Becker has written a couple of books and developed a few methodologies like the famous MOSAIC methodology that helped police in USA address increasing spousal violence. His first book “The Gift of Fear: Survival signals that protect us from violence” is an all-time best seller and challenged many conceptions around fear as a weapon against violence. The book is long. You may not have the time. Read a summary to begin with here. https://blog.12min.com/the-gift-of-fear-pdf/
De Becker’s primary domain of work is against violence against women, Sexual violence. Spousal violence. Terrorism. And violence in society in general.
In these very uncertain times globally, let us ponder on some things that de Becker tells us. He says, we have forgotten to rely on our instincts to look after ourselves. We believe there is someone there, the government, the police, the doctor, the scientist who is protecting us. But often these authorities come very late in our lives in times of crisis. And we trust technology. Alarms, high fences will protect us from danger. They were built to do a job. Protect us. We believe. And we neglect the most important signal that should drive us. Our intuition. Our gut-feeling!
His famous quote from the Gift of Fear runs thus: intuition is always right in at least two important ways: it is always in response to something; it always has your best interest in heart.
The argument that de Beer puts is not around the power of our intuition but the lack of our trust in our own trust on our own gut feeling. He proposes that in fact trusting one’s intuition is the exact opposite of living in fear. He says, real fear does not paralyze. It energizes. And enables one to do things that normally one could/ would not do.
He illustrates this by a story of an attempted rape victim. A trapped victim’s reaction when her attacker said that he was going to the kitchen, her intuition told her to tiptoe him to the kitchen. And as the coward opened the drawer to look for a knife, she made a break for the front door and ran away. Later in her recollection she spoke of her intuition to follow the criminal but she had no recollection of any time when she was afraid.
Another wonderful theory that de Becker proposes is around an act of violence. He refutes the theory that some humans are born criminals. He says that there is nothing called a criminal mind separating some people from others. In fact, according to de Becker every human is capable of committing violence. It is how he or she justifies it that matters and is different. And he says that an act of violence is not always a spurt of the moment act. Rather it is a chain of thoughts and acts. 1) Justification, a judgement that one has been intentionally wronged. 2) Alternatives, there is no other way but violence to seek justice or redress. 3) Consequences, the decision on whether one can live with the consequences of violence and 4) Ability, the confidence on the power of muscles, brain, bullet or bomb to achieve their ends. And he concludes on this almost dramatically, violence is predictable. Almost as much as that water will come to a boil.
I will end by stating two last statements from de Becker. One on spousal murder. De Becker had said that most spousal murder does not happen in the heat of the moment. It is usually a premeditated decision.
And the final statement of de Becker, which for me is framed in mahogany in my heart. And I will quote it as it is “I will encourage people to remember that “no” is a complete sentence.”
1: I will refrain from any political conversation. Any National and Global Political discussion. Political discussion for me is fun and part of an adda. I do not have mood for that now. I will not discuss politics. I will not argue on politics or for that any matter. I will ignore any comment on social media that has any political odour. For me there is only one Party now. The National Government. Period.
2: I will be as frugal as possible in my lifestyle. I will eat less. Less quantity. Less variety. May be adjust to a style that will help me learn modesty in my expenditure and lifestyle. I will try my best not to put any additional burden on my household members. They are anyway overstrained with disruption of normal services. This will be a challenge to me. I am generally not very frugal in life style. It is bad practice. I will now be frugal. Beginning with less number of orders on tea and coffee from home members.
3: I will try to remain safe and remind my family members to remain safe. Avoid cuts, injuries as much as possible. I have a 2 year child at home. Who is not able to go out to play in parks. Confined in house. Double caution there.
4: I will lead a life that is very different from my usual vacation/ weekend/ WFH lifestyle. Not joyous in celebration. I will be worried. I will be somber.
5: I will call at least 3 friends and family members every day. I need to hear voices of loved ones.
6: I will pray. I believe in prayers. It will help soothe me. I am married to science. But I love to Pray. For the Peace that I get just from those quiet few moments for me, from me. Science and prayers for me go hand in hand.
6: I WILL NOT ENTERTAIN ANY GUEST AT MY HOME. 21 DAYS. OUR DOORS LOCKED.
These are most difficult times. Frankly less for me and you who read this post. But for the men and women who we know and who live on their daily wages. For them who do not have shelter. For them who do not have the power to stock or buy food in such times. It is a very difficult time, my friend.
Now we must remember them and know that they too exist. We will not see them. They too will be off the road and off from our sight. But I must remember that they exist and they do not have privileges that you and I have.
My and your Prime Minister has come to us as a family member. With folded hands. He is my leader for the next 21 days.
This is a challenge for us. We must stand up and face this challenge as One. One Nation, one Family.
We must. We do not have any option.
INDIA will win. Because of the sacrifice it is making. Today.
It is now generally understood that the way to effectively manage COVID-19 is the 3 T principle. Track. Test. Treat.
Allow me to propose a fourth T. Trust.
For all the scientific brains here, there and everywhere, TRUST four things unless you have a definitive evidence otherwise. If you have a counter evidence, do share.
The four things I want to say:
1: Everyone at this point has the interest of the Country and its population in mind. Those decision makers know if they make wrong decision and you are infected, they too stand a higher chance of infection.
2: The scientific advisers to the Government on COVID-19 are some of the best scientific brains in the country. They understand virology. They understand epidemiology. They understand public health. They understand clinical medicine. Rely on them for once. They are thinking sound unless proven otherwise.
3: A decision is taken based on its scientific merit and feasibility. For example, long back when polio eradication efforts were adopted in the country, a school of Indian scientists thought and provided evidence that injectable vaccine would be a better choice than oral vaccine because of many reasons. But India chose to go for the oral vaccine. Because of many reasons. Cost. Feasibility. Herd immunity impact. Among the reasons. Whether injectable would have given better results than oral, we do not know. But what we know is in the long run with a heavy cost, we succeeded in stopping transmission. And then when we could we introduced injectable. That too in fractional doses. Again there were questions. Why in fractional doses? But now the world is looking to adopt India’s strategy of fractional dose Injectable Polio vaccine. Therefore, know that we are blessed that we have the best scientific brains in the country that have the country’s interest in mind while advising the government. And also know that in making policy decisions there is something called feasibility. Something may sound very attractive scientific scientifically. But may not be feasible. The balance between science and the feasibility of its application is very important.
4: Be a critic. But not always. Particularly in areas where we do not have the full knowledge. In Democracy, the role of the critic is super important. As a citizen, you have another very important role. Stick to it. Be a spokesperson of Science. Speak loudly and repeatedly about the public health measures that Government is asking its citizens to take. Trust that we will do a more effective job together as soldiers in this battle than criticising our government and our scientific institutions at this hour.
Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. The first President and the most illustrated member. Two different people. In fact, two very different people. One, a humble plain looking son of a grain merchant growing in the outskirts of Vienna. Second, a very aristocratic elite highly educated imposing person from a well to do family in Vienna. Former, Dr Alfred Adler. Latter, Dr Sigmund Freud.
We all know of Freud. We may not have heard of Adler but surly we have heard of the term he coined ‘Inferiority Complex’.
Adler’s famous book ‘Understanding Human Nature’ was a key publication of his times on what the title says. Today with more advanced understanding, there are refinements and counter theories in psychology on the subject.
But today we will stick to what Adler has broadly said and I will state that with an anecdote.
In loose and very plain terms, a broad non technical interpretation of Adler’s suggestion of how a person would respond at any point of time to the question, ‘Who Am I?’, can be simply determined as an interplay of three I s in that current situation.
The person’s sense of Inferiority, Inadequacy and Insecurity. In life. At home. At work.
Those were a little difficult times in office. People were working in their jobs for long. Increments were meagre. Promotions were not an option. Relocations were not happening. For a year, things were moving on at a very slow dull pace.
It began with one or two staff. ‘Sir, it has been long. The job feels dull. I am thinking of looking for a new job. Can you help? Will you please let me know if there is a position vacant? I do not know how much more I can contribute to the current organisation any more. I do not know about this job’s security also. It is a yearly contract.’ I heard. Then the trend increased. More and more staff came. Each with more or less the same request.
When the number of staff wanting you change swelled to ten, the supervisor called a meeting. Of all the staff. It was a two hour meeting. After the meeting was over, he requested the ten to stay back.
Mr Supervisor then said I have asked the ten of you to stay back because I wanted to share with you a new job opportunity that has recently come to me. I thought of you when I read the job.
He then shared the job profile with them. The job description. The Terms of Reference. The salary. The perks. The contract. To be renewed yearly based on performance. The location. The Organization’s name was missing.
And he asked. ‘Well let me know if you are interested. There are enough positions.’
Nine hands went up. ‘This one is not bad. It will be a good change.’
The supervisor waited. Five minutes. For the ‘Thank you’ s to subside.
Then he put up a slide. On the screen. A job. With description and terms of reference. And salary.
The ten watched the slide. As they read, the Supervisor asked ‘Do you read this job?’. They all answered in unison ‘This is our job. What we are doing.’
The Supervisor then asked them to take out the piece of paper with the new job advertisement.
‘In the new job piece of paper in your hand, put the name of your current organization. And spot the difference between the new job and the one on the screen.’
For the next few minutes, there was silence.
Then one of them tore the new job paper. Then another. Then another. Then.
When all the papers were torn, Mr. Supervisor said ‘Well. Now that you know, your idea of a better job is almost an illusion, it is time for you to go back to your office. Think for a week. After a week, if you still want a new job, come to me. I will genuinely try to find a new job for you.’
They all left after another round of tea, biscuits and some laughter.
For nine months, no one came. After nine months, the Supervisor found a better job and left.
A sense of inferiority compared to other peers, a sense of inadequacy of opportunity and finally a sense of insecurity. That is what had summed up who they were as employees in the Organization.
With revelation and renewed trust, they stayed back in the organization.
The battle is on. In India. Against Coronavirus transmission. With grit. With courage. With determination. Where victory is the only option. Every country to her own citizens. Save. Protect. Prevent.
In India. Everyday s a news. It is no more a battle happening in the icefields of Siachen. Or the deserts of Rajasthan. It is happening in my house. In my neighbor’s house. Yesterday, three apartment societies close to our apartment has been shut down. Shut down? We ask each other. What does it mean? Gates closed. We learn. Residents locked. Wow!!
Polio eradication. Was a different battle. An urgent but over a time. This one is almost a battle that I am watching on a bridge on the river Kawai. Hand to had fight. A general is speaking virtually. Stay indoors. Practice hygiene. Report if you have fever.
And commanding units are working 24-hours. At Indian Council of Medical research. At hospitals. Soldiers with stethoscopes around neck. Soldiers in white saris and aprons. Soldiers driving ambulances. In a battlefield. Soldiers dispensing medicines. Soldiers testing samples in laboratories.
This a battle against human race. And then came the grim news. The virus is killing our parents. Our grandparents. Our elderly specifically more. We are enraged. What? Papa-mummy. Grandpa-granny. Virus, you dare. We buckle up. We will win.
Report comes from Kolkata. Bus conductor pouring sanitizers on hands of passengers. Report comes from Kerala. Passengers coming out of a bus lined up for washing hands.
Report comes from airports. Our fellow citizens have returned from Iran. From Italy. We celebrate. In our homes. In our own way. Someone hugs a dear one. Someone clenches a fist. Someone claps.
And we call friends. How is your son in USA? How is your daughter in Amsterdam? Good. Great. Stay safe. This shall go away. We hear of our friend’s son returned from Germany. We clap. Mousumi and me.
Rumors fly. One says some nonsense. Others protest. With angry emojis. Speak science. Read ministry and WHO guidelines. We are in a battle. That we must win. No time for nonsense. We will have those later. Jokes? Fine. Good destress. But no rumor. No rumor.
The apartment society is full of people. Working from home. Basking in sun in their verandahs. Sipping tea. Children playing in green lawns. Running around. Club shut. Gym shut. Parlor shut. “Can we meet in the evening? Whiskey? They say alcohol is good for health in these times.” Laughs. “I was joking. But bore ho raha hoon. Can we meet? Only two three of us. Allowed. No? “
Life is different. But the battle is on. Our leaders have somehow given the message. This is serious business. And we will do what we can. But you must take care of yourself. And each other.
Maid comes. Coughs. Perhaps innocuous. Outside door. “Go on leave. We will pay you. Come after 14 days.” Poor lady is baffled. Walks away. At the entry of the Society there is a temperature monitor. And strict surveillance of visitors.
It is a unique state we are in. Uncertain. Nervous. But determined. Perhaps the national song today is the song that all of us know in our own languages. “We shall overcome some day”.
As we see the numbers rising. Maharashtra. Uttar Pradesh. Bihar. For the first time some stray morning walker asks “Why is Gujarat not reporting? Are they testing?” Science. Everyone is suddenly talking science. And science only.
The known critic of everything and anything that is government asks angrily “Why is the Protest still on in Shaheen Bagh? They are posing a health risk.” This is the same man who waited three hours in traffic jams happy that someone was protesting against the Government.
The Nation is united in its battle. Absolutely. As one. That is why India never fails. Because of her citizens. In times of crisis, in times of battles. One India, one Nation. Speaking science.
Remembering a sister. A daughter. A wife. On Wonen’s day. (Because I remember my Mother every day).
Story 1: Sister’s Support
One of the the most memorable pictures I have clicked is from a village in eastern Uttar Pradesh.
I have told this story before. But on women’s day I remember this story again.
This was a village I had gone with a few colleagues to investigate a case. A case of encephalitis. A mother. Bed ridden. In dire state of health. The husband. Weeping at their helplessness. There was gloom in the air. Nothing much we could do.
As I was returning, I heard a sound of laughter. Most unexpected in this gloomy air. I peeped.
And here in a corner, a child was swinging in air and laughing. A girl was holding his swing and balancing him.
A brother and a sister. Children of parents in distress.
The sister was old enough to understand the crisis. The boy too young. Innocent. Laughing in joy in his swing.
The sister supporting the boy. Giving him his moment of joy in times of duress.
This image lives with me and shall for ever.
A sister. Support. In times of distress to a brother.
Story 2: Daughter’s Love
The flight was from Delhi to Hyderabad. Early morning. Me. Mousumi. Tintin.
After some time in the flight, I fell sick. Hypoglycaemia.
I was sweating profusely. Also fainting. Tintin took care. He got sweet drinks and cookies from the flight attendant.
The flight attendant. A young lady. Stood by me. As I sat recovering sitting in my aisle seat. She brought one sweet drink after another. Wiped my forehead with a napkin.
As I recovered she asked ‘Are you feeling better?’ I said ‘Yes.’ And said. ‘Please take care. You must not neglect.’ And she held my hand and said ‘Stay very well. Please.’
As the flight was to land she came and gave me a folded napkin. I asked ‘What is this?’ She smiled ‘something for you to read and remember what I said. Do not neglect.’
I opened the napkin. It was a note from her for me. It began. ‘Keep rocking.’ And ended ‘Be happy. Always :-)’ .
I have kept that note. I take that note as a note from a daughter to her father. Caring. Reminding. To stay healthy and happy. Always.
Story 3: A wife’s courage
1992. Mousumi and I had moved to our new posting. Shortly after our marriage.
I was much handicapped. Because of my poor Hindi. And because of a huge culture change.
I was the Chief Medical Officer. We lived in a staff quarter complex. With the other two Medical Officers. Nurses. And other staff.
About two months into my job, one morning one of the Medical Officer’s Dr Chaudhury came and asked for something. I forget what. I could not because of administrative reasons. I denied. He argued. I stood my point.
He was a local. And burly.
When none of his options worked he threatened me. With dire consequences. He reminded me that he was local and I was from Bangal. He threatened that he would involve the Panchayat. By that time other staff had come. They tried to intervene. But Dr Chaudhury was ferocious. He turned a chair. Banged the table and walked out of the room abusing me loudly.
The news was spreading. I could see staff members speaking in hush times. Everyone was afraid of Dr Chaudhary. Mr Compounder came and told me ‘Do not worry. Let Manager Saab come in the evening. He will sort matters.’ And he advised ‘Why don’t you go home and rest.’
I did not. I sat in my clinic. Patients started coming. And because I was alone, the load was very high. That day.
Dr Chaudhury had disappeared.
About an hour and half later, as I was examining a patient, Dr Chaudhury came. And in a local dialect told the patients in the room to leave for a few minutes.
The patients meekly left the room. And Dr Chaudhury shut the door. After the last man had left.
I was unsure of what was happening. I watched.
Dr Chaudhury came to me. And extended his hand. ‘I am sorry.’ He said. I stood up. And embraced him. As men do. To settle issues.
He sat down. Opposite side of the table. I said ‘Dr Chaudhury, let us have some tea.’ He nodded. I said ‘Well let’s go home then. Mousumi will prepare tea.’
He immediately stood up and said ‘No.’ I asked ‘Why? What happened?’ He looked at me and said in Hindi ‘Bhabhi is angry. Very angry. Bahut gusse meiN haiN.’
I was surprised. I asked ‘What happened? Did she tell you anything?’
Dr Chaudhury said ‘No. No. She did not say anything. But she is very angry. I will not go to the campus now. You also do not go. Let us have tea here. And see patients.’
He got up and opened the door. And we saw patients for the next one hour. Together.
Lunch time. I came home. Mousumi was in the kitchen. Cooking. She smiled as usual and said ‘Have a bath. I am heating food.’
I did. Everything seemed normal.
At lunch, we both sat with rice and roti and Dal. I asked ‘Did something happen today?’ Mousumi said ‘Meaning?’ I said ‘Between Chaudhury and you?’ She smiled and said ‘ I had heard otherwise. That something had happened between you and Dr Chaudhury.’
I said ‘And? After that? What happened?’
Mousumi said. ‘ I heard it from Mr Gandhi’s wife. I was furious that he threatened you. I took a pile of vegetables and that big dagger (bhojali) that your father had. The one that we keep under our bed. And sat in the verandah. And I was cutting the vegetables with that dagger. Brinjals. Lauki s. Sitaphal. Potato. All vegetable that I had in the house. I was cutting them again and again and again. I was very angry that he had threatened you. Dr Chaudhury saw me from his window. I saw him too. I looked at him and kept on chopping the vegetables. After some time, I saw him leave the campus. Why did you ask me? Did he tell you anything?’
I laughed so much that day.
It took me at least three weeks before I could convince that my house was safe for him to have tea.
Many days later, I had asked Mousumi. ‘Why did you display your anger in public that day?’ She said ‘I was very angry. But more than that I wanted to show anyone who dared to threat you that I will be in his way. Ferociously. Protecting you.’
Mousumi, my wife. Has always been my strength. With love. Laughter. And when there was a need, with a dagger.
(I fortunately did not have a chance ever again to capture this mood of Mousumi on my phone or camera.)
I have been touched by women. Who have inspired me in many ways.
My sisters. My sister-in-laws. My batchmates from Medical school. My neighbors. My colleagues. Our extended family.
Julie Jacobson. My mentor. An inspiration. Who taught me so much at work.
The Didi s that have become my very own special ones. Krishna Di. For one. With her unending love for me.
Life has moved on. With love care and blessings of many women beginning with my Ma.
Life is beautiful because of these women. May this women’s day be a reminder of the love, strength, inspiration that many women bring to our lives.
COVID-19. I have received three questions today. Interestingly, all of them have an element of P in it.
First from a cab driver: Sir,should I panic? Darna haiN kiya? (He had seen me using a hand sanitizer)
Second from a public health friend. If this is not pandemic, what is? Country after country, seriously?
Third from my wife. What do we need to protect ourselves in our house and outside?
On the first, to the driver I replied. “I will ask you not to panic but be cautious. Darna mat lekin sabdhan rehna. There are very good guidelines in paper from Ministry. Please read them. And call 011-23978046 if you have any doubt. Ministry number. You may have to call many times. But you will get authentic advice.” He nodded. Thereafter, I asked him casually. “What do you do when you panic generally?” He smiled. And said “Nakhun khata hoon. I bite my nails.” We laughed. I showed him my nails. He understood the familiarity. And he laughed loudly. Then I told him. “Most important thing. No nail biting. No putting fingers in mouth. And in nose. And ears. Find something else to do when you panic.” He nodded. I said. “But this is very serious.” He asked, “When will I know I have Coronavirus?” I said “Only when you are tested. And you will go for a test only when you have high fever and cough.” Hesitantly then he asked “Can I ask you something, if you do not mind?” I said “If the question is about your sadi-shuda marital life, yes you can.” He folded his hands and said “Dhanyabad.”
To my public health friend, on his concern on pandemic issue, I said “Now that I know that you have read Park & Park and you know that I have read Park & Park to begin with, let us not debate on this issue. You will find a wiser person to advice. I am more interested in knowing when we will catch up over the long pending coffee and pakora treat from you?” He laughed and said “Now that ii is due for so long, let me upgrade the offer to a dinner. Come over the weekend.”
To my wife, to begin with there was no laughter. She had asked the question in all seriousness. And I had to be business like, prompt and clear in my answers. Those who know me will understand the difficulty. Those who know Mousumi will appreciate better. For her, I had the following advice.
Take this seriously. Do not panic. Do not read WhatsApp. Do not advice others based on what you have heard from padoshan-Bhabhi. (To which she reminded me that this was a serious conversation and the moment she understands I am not serious, she will leave the room.)
Wash your hands frequently. Frequently means before coming out of kitchen. Every half an hour. And rinse your hands please when you wash them.
Carry a hand-sanitizer with you. Please use it. I have a few from Seattle. I had bought for my flight. Take one. (To this she replied “You use those. Tell me what I should get from here.” I said “Go to the medicine shop. Ask them for an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.” She said, “You should have told this in the first place.”)
Wipe the surfaces you are working on with a cleanser. Tissue paper.
When you sneeze, sneeze in a handkerchief or your elbow. You generally do that always. (I think I scored a brownie with the last point.)
Take your regular medicines religiously. No skipping medicines. A weak body is vulnerable.
For few days avoid crowd. (To that she asked, “When have you seen me moving in a crowd?” To which I answered “Never. But just in case.” I lost any and all the brownie points I may have gained with this point.)
And you do not do these things, but just in case if you were to advise others in the house like Raju, all the Didi s and Bhagwan Ji, please tell them to keep social space. No hugging. No handshaking. No … She stopped me. A little furiously. “When have you seen Raju, Bhagwan Ji and the Didi s handshaking and hugging? Can you not give a proper answer to a simple question?” I knew I had failed. Utterly. Miserably.
(As she started walking out of the room) I said “Mousumi, please however tell everybody that if they have fever and cough and any respiratory distress, they should tell you immediately please.” To which she said “That I know from TV. I need not have asked you for that advice.”