Dr. George Jacob
I am a doctor, and I ‘was’ a surgeon. But I had to relocate my sphere of work from the operation theatre to the Surgical ICU of a busy tertiary care centre, in Kochi, a city in the southern Indian state of Kerala. This was necessitated by a stroke that left me physically weakened considerably. It was imperative that I reach the ICU on time. I had sick patients to look after, and had the grueling responsibility to brief their families of the progress the patients were making, if at all.
That morning on the month of mid-October was a typically wet one. The Northeast monsoon had kept its tryst with the state in right earnest. The cold weather had me lazily spend extended time underneath the blanket. I sprang out of bed later than usual. Precious morning hours had sped by. I knew I had made a false start to yet another grueling day. The stroke had rendered my movements tardy. I compensated by getting up at 4 am to beat the clock that refused to keep my pace. I hurried through my breakfast with my wife, a busy anesthetist in the same hospital, yelling down my throat ‘make it fast’. She was always under tremendous pressure to swipe attendance at the hospital dot on time. I went through the daily ablutions at double speed as I could physically manage, after which my wife helped me dress up.
Both of us got into the car. I placed myself beside the driver, and my wife complaining that ‘she was badly late because of you’, settled down on the seat behind me. It had begun to drizzle. The road that took us from our home to the highway was riddled with potholes. My yawns paled in comparison to the yawns of those potholes (read craters) that wet morning. The driver sensing my wife’s impatience shifted to first gear. The car ‘topsy-turvied’ like a ship would on a choppy ocean. I feared I might suffer a volvulus (rotation of the intestine about its mesentery (the structure that moors the intestine to the back of the abdomen). I complained about the bad state of the road. My wife, who seemed to have accepted an unfavorable beginning of another typically busy day in the operation theatre, decided to soothen my ruffled feathers. She said she had talked with the local village councilor just the other day about the terrible state of the roads. The councilor had expressed her helplessness, and that of the local governing body, as a lot of tenders for repair works were pending, thanks to the GST that was recently introduced by the NDA-led central government, as part of its efforts to ‘set right the sagging’ economy. Everybody in the government and in the state was counting stars as to how to go about the business of a reasonably comfortable and hassle-free living and running the state, thanks to, and despite GST.
The GST, besides pushing up cost of living through the roof, also created a lot of confusion among the citizens, the government and businesses. The only person who was happy in Kerala about the GST was her Finance Minister, who had a lot of money pouring into the government’s coffers. The councilor had told my wife.
After the rickety drive, we managed to turn left on the National Highway, surface of which was mercifully smooth. My ears caught my wife’s sigh of relief, despite our favorite call-in music programme-‘Hello Joy Alukkas’ on the FM Radio playing at a reasonably loud volume. Advertisements Between the songs ensured the continuity of the programme.
Suddenly the voice of the Prime Minister of the country came on air ‘mere pyare deshvasiyon’ (my dear fellow countrymen). My heart skipped many a beat. This sentence had come to be the most feared one in Hindi to every Indian. This, ever since 8.15 PM of November 8, 2016, when the Prime minister on national television followed up that sentence in Hindi by declaring the then Rs. 500 and Rs, 1000 currencies illegal tenders- a draconian step called ‘demonetization’. This had thrown the entire nation and the life of her citizens to utter confusion and disarray subsequently.
Mercifully, this morning, the prime minister was only wishing the Indian team a successful participation in the under-17 Fifa World Cup that was being hosted by the country. My relief and happiness, as well as my wife’s were short-lived. Our car found itself right at the back of a humongous traffic jam. That did not seem encouraging at all. The car crawled centimeter by centimeter. The car’s fuel gauge too was another cause for worry. The snail -like progress we made threatened to empty the already depleted fuel tank. It had been our practice to put in petrol on Sundays on our way back from church. But in Kerala, petrol pumps had been remaining shut, refusing to sell precious fuel on Sundays, since long. Nobody seemed to bother about this, which is surely a dampener to tourism, in a state which had figured in the National Geographic , sometime back as one of the ‘must visit places before you die’. The prospect of our car stalling amidst that chaos seemed a real possibility. The short speech by the Prime Minister on the Radio was followed by the national anthem, being played before the inaugural match. Abruptly breaking myself free from the constraints of the seat belt, I attempted up to stand erect inside the car, badly bumping my head on the car’s roof, in the process. After all, the national anthem was being played, and I was supposed to display my nationalism by standing erect to the anthem. Somebody pulled me down and deposited me back on my seat. I don’t know who did that antinational act. It was either my wife, or my driver, or probably both. I prayed for them silently. They had just committed an antinational act- that of having one standing up to the national anthem, sit down, refusing to stand up themselves! At a distance, we could just see a rather huge rally taken out by the BJP, the party heading a coalition government in Delhi. Flags bearing the symbol of a lotus in full bloom betrayed the identity of the rally holders. Billboards that were displayed along the numerous posts beside the highway proudly announced a rally to be taken out by the ruling coalition against two evils that had apparently made Kerala incompatible with life: (1) political clashes and murders enacted in the killing fields in the northern districts of the state between the ‘workers’ (read puppets in the hands of their political masters, who remote-controlled them from the air-conditioned comforts of their living rooms) of the RSS, the ideological and religio-social ringmaster of the ruling BJP at the centre, and the CPM, the communist party which led the ruling coalition in Kerala. These two took on each other like bull to red flag whenever they came face-to-face. This made life extremely difficult for the ‘workers’ (to use the right word) of the centrist political outfit that BJP was, and its coalition parties, almost pushing them into a desperate state of extinction in Kerala! And (2) increasing incidents of ‘love jihad’ through which girls belonging to other faiths were forcefully converted to Islam by local sympathizers of the IS and other terror outfits. Those indulging in forced conversion to Islam pretended amorousness, and professed love of the romantic kind for their targets, later to be shipped, after marriage to Syria and other nations which are laboratories of terror outfits like the IS. To take my wife’s mind off the growing irritation at the real possibility of reporting late for work, we discussed the game the BJP-led NDA indulged in to gain backdoor entry to echelons of power in Kerala. The legal and democratic possibility of the lotus booming in Kerala looked remote at the present time, and hence the ‘jana Raksha yathra’ (save people march) that was being undertaken by the sympathizers of the BJP in Kerala, from the southern district of Thiruvananthapuram to the northern one-Kasarkod. It was part of this ‘save people’ campaign that was holding us, three hapless people on the highway. The driver said what we did not want to hear at that time ‘we need to put in petrol’! But, how could we get to a fuel station in this traffic jam? Centimeter by centimeter, we managed to creep into one. The man at the petrol stall with the nozzle and hose in hand asked us ‘how many toilets would you like to sponsor’? The question left us bemused and clueless. ‘Toilets?’ I asked sticking my head out. ‘Yes. How many?’ he repeated. The Minister of Tourism, who was recently inducted into the central government from Kerala, had stated soon after swearing in that the Prime Minister, by hiking up prices of fuel meant to use the money to build toilets for the poor in India. Since then, fuel was sold in India in units of toilets to be built, instead of liters! This was explained to us in detail by our excited driver, with an air of ‘I know it all than you guys’ air about him. He seemed to take a dig at our ignorance of the goings-on in the country. He complimented by telling us that India, through a slew of progressive measures implemented by the central government was very much on track to realize the Prime Minister’s dream of ushering in ‘Achche din’(good days) in the country! Not bothered or interested at the concept of ‘good days’, and the nation’s success at achieving them, my wife, incensed at the unexpected delay, which was very much beyond our control, marched up to the cashier to pay for the fuel using the debit card. ‘Have you linked your Aadhaar card to your bank account?’ I heard the man at the cash counter ask my wife. Luckily we had. Having had many marriages to organize, viz: that of the Adhaar card with the bank account, Adhaar card with the PAN card, Adhaar card with our mobile SIM cards, we had forgotten about the marriage of our older daughter who had reached marriageable age. This had lately been bugging our minds. With a healthier petrol gauge, we resumed our journey to the hospital where we worked. Traffic had eased a bit, giving us a closer view of the ‘save people’ march. The march had who’s who of the ruling BJP at its head, including the Chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, who was speaking into the microphone, which blared in high decibels. ‘Kerala is witness to numerous deaths from diseases like Chickungunya he declared. ‘The state must turn to Uttar Pradesh for ways to improve its dismal health standards’ he advised. I thought I heard my wife snort from the back seat, and caught her as I turned around, with a bemused look on her face, with her lower jaw hanging by its hinges from the upper one! I turned away from that grotesque expression on my wife’s face, I had never seen before, to more entertaining goings-on of the yathra on the street. By that time, I sensed my bladder about to burst at its seams, and I needed to relieve myself immediately to avoid a major catastrophe! ‘You could have used the toilet at the petrol station’ my wife sounded irritated. The sympathetic driver spotted a pay-and-use latrine at the approaching junction. ‘Madam, Sir can use that’. He suggested to my wife, who was busy looking at her watch and gesticulating, both simultaneously, like an expert at multi-tasking. The driver drove the car up to the loo, to ease my approach to the much-sought after facility. The board in front of the facility demanded that I pay Rs.11.80 paise to empty my bladder, now ready to give way. I enquired, to kill my curiosity, about the weird fare I was supposed to pay to use the toilet. The man at the counter after explaining to me that ‘the actual fare is Rs.10, and that the extra one rupee and 80 paise is the GST’, asked me busily without making eye contact. ‘Have you brought your Adhaar card?’ ‘Only people who produce the Adhaar card are allowed to use this facility’. I told him nervously. ‘Sir, I don’t have the original right now, I have its copy on my phone’. I whispered taking care not to increase my intra-abdominal pressure for obvious reasons.
‘I’m sorry. I have strict orders from the ‘Swachch Bharat Abhiyan’ overseers, that users must produce the original card’. He did not even sound apologetic to a stroke survivor on a full bladder! I returned to the car defeated. I dared not look at my wife’s face!
Somehow we reached the hospital in a car with a full petrol tank, and I with a full bladder!
I dashed to the ICU I worked in. My wife had disappeared to her area of work by then. The ICU looked like a battle field. There were many patients on ventilators. The Critical Care consultant, her students and junior colleagues were almost pulling their hair out. Alarms were bleeping loudly to sound as if a fire engine was gate crashing into the hospital. My destination was the toilet that stood at the far end of the ICU.As I was helped to the toilet through the ICU I overheard the nurses yell ‘the oxygen levels are falling. Can anybody inform the oxygen plant please?’ after I emptied my bladder, and a crisis averted, I decided to investigate the mêlée. The hospital authorities had, overnight, fearing reprisals from the centre, decided to heed to the Uttar Pradesh Chef Minister’s directive, and called up its sister concern at Uttar Pradesh to enquire about the manner in which hospitals were being managed there, to adopt relevant and imaginative measures, if any . They religiously followed the directions from Lucknow to the letter. What they did not realize was that the oxygen in the central oxygen plant had dipped to critically low levels, posing grave danger to patients on ventilators. The hospital authorities, I learnt, was leaving no stone unturned to replenish the fast-depleting precious gas at a war footing.
After a busy day at the hospital, and a stressful one at that, brought about by the oxygen crisis, my wife and I returned home by evening, through an event-free drive. My wife was silent at the backseat. She appeared cast down. She had received a rundown from her boss for having reported to work late in the morning. After my evening routine of bath, newspaper reading and writing, I walked up to the dining table, though I wasn’t confident of dinner being served, thanks to my wife’s not-so-favorable disposition to life in general that evening. As I walked into the dining room I made sure I carried the file containing the original Aadhaar card, the PAN card, the marriage certificates of that between the Adhaar card with the PAN card, and that of the latter with our bank accounts, and our mobile SIM cards! All in their original avatars, just to be on the safe side, should my wife decide to demand any of those valuable documents designed to promise Achche din for citizens within the country, as a prerequisite to serve dinner. Not bothering to even take a second look at the file I clutched within my trembling hand, my loving wife served the family a delicious dinner. I was relieved that there existed at least one institution in modern India-one’s family, where those documents were not solicited at crucial times! After dinner, sleep had me retire rather early to bed, on which I found my tired wife fast asleep like a baby. I still had the file with me, just to be on the safe side, should I decide to make love with my wife(what if conjugal relationship between legally married couples too required those valuable documents to be roduced?), which seemed highly unlikely, going by the snore that emanated from the person lying next to me. As the blanket went up my face, the curtain came down on a truly Achcha Din ever, in my life, on that day in mid-October!