Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Stubble Trouble : The Date !

If it's hard enough to win over a woman's heart, it's harder to lift her spirits once she feels her man has let her down! As a man, you've got to be at your toes all the time , so that your girl doesn't feel cheated .....because, believe me, that would lead to some very awkward situations for you! I've been on the receiving end of the quiet fury of my girl , but what really led to a missed opportunity was on our 4th anniversary of getting together ! 
        We were classmates in our medical college , and had been celebrating our anniversaries every year , by going out for dinner at one of the nice restaurants in the city . However , in the days leading upto the coveted 4th anniversary, her behaviour was somewhat queer ! We were in the final year of our course then, and I thought , girls being girls, she was voluntarily putting herself under pressure of the curriculum!  She spoke less, her smiles appeared forced, she didn't ask questions and only answered formally! Once or twice, I did ask her if something was wrong, but she brushed them aside. On D-day, I got all dressed up, and went and stood at the Ladies' hostel gate for her to come down . I gave her a call, but the phone didn't get picked up . I redialled, and after many rings, she picked up my call. 
"Hello", I said, "where are you ? I'm waiting outside your gates!" 
She asked, " But for whom ? " 
I was dumbfounded ! 
" I mean......we just spoke a couple of hours ago. Aren't we going out for dinner?", I asked , flabbergasted! 
" I'm sorry , are we supposed to?", was her insipid response. 
" please come down once , please don't joke !" , I tried to find humor in the proceedings.
It was apparent that the interaction was too heavy for any kind of joke. I persisted with my request and after some more pleading , she came down . She hadn't got ready for an outing at all ! 
 I was puzzled, " What happened dear? We've been going out for this dinner date every year . What is the matter ? Is anything wrong ? Why have you changed suddenly ?" 
      She looked away and didn't answer at first. Then she slowly asked, " Titas , haven't you changed ?" 
"Me ? ", I was incredulous , " absolutely not ! What do you mean ?" 
She now looked at my face , " you sure , there's absolutely nothing that has changed about you ?" Her eyes focused intently on my face and roved around from side to side.
            Then it dawned on me . Instantaneously , my right palm went upto my chin, and grazed against my newly developed stubble of two weeks! It was a new look that I was trying out , going with the recent trend of keeping an unkempt beard ! 
" But you didn't say anything....this has been there for the last 15 days ! You should've told me that you don't like this ! " , I tried to reason with her, as my mind finally registered the fact that the time period of me not shaving had coincided with her downcast mood !  

 " Titas , why would this need a reminder ? You remember , when we first became a couple, what I told you ? That I saw shades of my Dad in you ! You were a confident young man , always clean shaven , ready with a smile , dignified, well dressed! You could be identified as the bright upcoming Doctor , just like my Dad is . It was the reason I fell for you . But look at you now! That stubble of yours looks downright filthy ! God knows who put this idea into your brain that you needed to look 'macho' by throwing away your razors !  I've been waiting for the past few days , hoping everyday you'd turn up properly in the hospital wards, but you've not done it at all! You don't look anything remotely close to a Doctor're more of a hooligan now . And you expect me to go out and dine with you ?" , she rattled off without a pause ! 
                I realised my folly ! I apologised for being the thick headed guy , who tried to incorporate some machismo into his look. I tried to convince her to pardon me and  go out with me , but she cancelled the dinner date for the evening . No amount of cajoling could make her change her decision , and I was left ruing an ill-timed  ill advised venture to alter my look  ! The opportunity to take my girl out on that special date , like previous years, slipped away, but it taught me an important lesson : that no matter what happened, never take your girl for granted. Every girl wants her man to look good, and your appearance needed to be spot-on if you needed to woo your girl! I had realised, the hard way, that a grizzly beard wouldn't add to my looks, but a clean shaven face did! 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Melbourne Montage : why I Love the City!

MCG on Boxing Day 2013 Ashes (image : indiatimes)

I gaped in awe as the television screen flashed the gigantic figure displayed on the electronic score board at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Boxing Day in the last Ashes series Down Under . As the mind numbing figure registered itself in my brain , I went back to a lazy evening in Kolkata more than two decades back, when my Dad was cradling me in his lap, while keeping the Guinness Book of World Record open in front , flipping through its pages. I was poring over its pictures, listening to dad as he explained what they meant. It was then that I first came across Melbourne, when Dad showed me a picture of a lush green cricket field, thronged with people, strewn across both pages of the books, that mentioned that the MCG holds the record for having the highest number of spectators to assemble on a day to watch a test match. As a tiny cricket enthusiast, from the city of the Eden Gardens, it was my first introduction to a ground overseas , and I had told Dad, " I will see a match here someday too! " Dad and smiled and said, " of course you will"! The memory stayed with me , and Melbourne had made a mark on my impressionable mind quite early ! As MCG renewed its tryst with the record , I felt strangely happy. I was no longer the curious kid, wanting to admire Melbourne from the books , I wanted to step into the city sooner than ever before. Somehow , I felt Melbourne was very similar to my city of Kolkata, and this ignited the desire to visit it even more.

               There are several uncanny resemblances that I find between the so called 'most liveable city in the world' Melbourne , and my own 'city of Joy' . Both of these are homes of absolute sports fanatics , and house two of the world's most fabulous cricket stadiums , where people turn up in huge numbers to support their teams. Apart from this, I've been a tennis enthusiast , and spending a January evening cheering for the world's most famous faces at the Australian Open in Rod Laver Arena remains a wish .  If possible, I'd also like to slip into an Australian Rules Football game at the MCG , and soak in the atmosphere there, sitting with raucous fans! 
The illuminated Rod Laver Arena (image: ABC)

      Coming from a city that celebrates heritage , and is often referred to as a city of palaces, owing to an abundance of historical structures, it's natural that I'd fall for the wonderful celebration of modern architecture in and around Melbourne , that is manifest in the iconic buildings like the World Heritage site - enlisted Royal Exhibition Building and others like the Gothic Bank , St Paul's Cathedral , the Shrine of Remembrance . I'd want to have my eureka moment , when I look down at the cityscape from a transparent capsule jutting out of the 88th floor of Melbourne's highest building , the Eureka Skydeck  , which is also the highest structure in the Southern Hemisphere . On a date, I'd wait for my lady beneath the giant clock at the Flinder's Street Railway station ,and start off my romantic trail from the iconic landmark !! 


  We, as Bengalis are proud of our own culture , and our spirit of embracing art . Melbourne has something that entices any lover of art : it has the finest display of street art that is available anywhere on the globe. How I would love to join in the creations of the massive road canvases on Hosier Lane that brings alive mundane buildings by splashes of colouring sprays ! I would also look forward to viewing the live performances of the  Australian Ballet and theatre performances in the cultural hubs of the city. Taking part in the MOOMBA , Australia's largest free community festival held annually , is also an immensely delightful prospect. 


       Kolkata has a rich history of its trams , and despite its slow movement , trams have continued plying in our city just because of our obsession with the sedate two-bogeyed transport , that never causes pollution . When I got to learn that Melbourne has the world's largest network of tram line , that spreads across a whopping 1773 tram stops on 28 routes over 250km of tracks, I was thrilled at the prospect of going sight seeing around the city on them, that too , for Free . My happy-go-lucky spirit would mingle with the gentle speed of a tram that loves to travel at its own leisurely pace , never caring to joust for more speed and compete with more fancied rivals in the road. Melbourne's trams are just the chariots that fuel my enthusiasm! 
I also rejoice at the fact that Melbourne caters its bicyclists to segregated cycle facilities . The fitness freak in me would have a field time, riding cycles though the city on the dedicated lanes , without worrying about being hit . 


      We Indians love to share our anecdotes and experiences with new friends , over a simmering cuppa . There's nobody in Bengal who'll turn down an invitation to discuss sports or politics , while sipping a cup of tea or coffee. Melbourne's cafe lined streets would provide me with ample such opportunities to pick the brains of native citizens , and cause a cascade of cultural interaction with them. My outlook would definitely be enriched , by the intermingling of ideas. I'd also love to tuck into the seafood delicacies that would be on offer from the chefs at the various eateries around the city . Being a foodie, I know Melbourne wouldn't disappoint me on the culinary front. I would look forward to gorge on the delicacies on offer at the huge Queen Victoria Market , that is sort of a melting pot for all of Melbourne's shoppers !! And did I forget to mention about the wineries on the Yarra River valley ?? Yes, I would perch myself on a Segway and roam around the scores of wineries to choose from ! The wine taster in me would be having a gala time......hic !! 

    The chance to pamper ourselves come few and far between for us guys, but when one has the access to the services of the Peninsula Hot Springs , there's no reason why one should decline the offer of a refreshing spa in the natural water spring , that has mineral laden waters ! And how can I let go of a lengthy spell of fun at Panny's Amazing World of Chocolate , that houses every single of my childhood fantasies : from a fountain of chocolate , to a town made of chocolate ! I wouldn't care about the calorie count as I would drink up chocolate shots at one go! 

         The wildlife enthusiast in me would place the Seal Concert and the Penguin Parade on my priority list in the Melbourne itinerary! It isn't everyday that one would get to see a bevy of penguins walk out in their wobbly gaits to lay eggs, but Phillip Island gives us this luxury, and it is  for this magnificent view that tourists flock to this place .  Another lucrative prospect is the Hot Air Balloon ride, that would take us up several thousand feet above the ground! Sounds like an awesome place to propose your girl amidst the clouds , doesn't it?

Going on a drive on the Great Ocean Road will also be a must , as I would be itching to have the saline ocean breeze blowing across my face as I drive along the mountain road , that overlooks the ocean. It would be my tribute to the war returned soldiers who constructed this amazing road on the Victorian southern fringe . I'd also not miss viewing the 12 apostles, which are limestone stacks jutting out near the coastline standing precariously, that are being degraded naturally by 2cm/year .  Before one more of them falls apart, I must be visiting them !

    Lastly , I would like to mention that Melbourne is home of my elder sister , who has been living here with her young family for the better part of the last decade. Melbourne's cosmopolitan outlook has helped her gel well with the society here. She also has an active part in the Indian cultural Association here, comprising of Indians who reside at the city , without ever feeling detached from homeland. What more can one ask from a city in a foreign land ? This is why I feel Melbourne has a heart and soul just like my own city of Kolkata . She exudes glamour , frenzy and charm , but she embraces all cultures and likes to wear her heart out on her sleeve, which is evident in the passion of the 90,831 turning up at the MCG for a match of cricket ! With the cricket World Cup just days away , I can feel the excitement palpable in and around Melbourne , where the grand finale is slated to be held! Me, the Kolkatan, another passionate city of the world, can't wait to visit the Victorian capital and revel in the joyride that is Melbourne! 

for my readers: There's a contest for all of you! Tell me in the comments below, Which of these places would you want to visit in Melbourne and why ? The best answer would win a fabulous gift voucher!

Friday, 26 December 2014

Stubble Trouble !

As the sole medical officer of the health unit I head, I have the liberty to run my office as I wish . Usually , my office is a peaceful place, apart from the occasional visits to my office by my superior , but those are few and far between . My superior is the executive medical officer, who's known as a hard taskmaster , a strict no-nonsense kind of a fellow. People tried their level best to not irritate him, and I was no exception . 
    However, sometime last year, we all got to know that the executive was going on a prolonged leave . That meant , for three long weeks, our weekly meetings at his office won't be held. I was delighted. With no official meetings in weeks, I was relaxed . I started going to office without a worry in the world . I decided, this was the time to try out my new stubble look ! 
     I gave up shaving to grow the foliage in my face . I felt I was going to look macho, in the new looks!  Day by day, the stubble made its way across the breadth of my face . One or two of my staffs cast curious glances, but none questioned me. I shoved my razors and shaving cream away. 
      Two weeks on, a car came to a halt in front of my office, and the familiar sound of boot made its way towards me. I sensed trouble. Sure enough , in strode my executive , without prior notice , and sending my preconceived notions of his staying out of station for at least a week more  , out of the window ! He took one look at me, and was aghast ! " impressive, huh? " , he asked in a voice moulded with sarcasm . " looking smart , my boy ! " I returned him a smile......a nervous smile .  He checked on all the office registers and files , all the while glancing at me , while I kept on admiring the furniture around, eager to avoid his direct eye-contact. 
    When he was done at last , the Executive started to take his leave. I too rose with him, to escort him till my chamber door, half-relieved that he hadn't made a huge fuss of my scrawny beard . Suddenly, he stopped in his tracks , turned to look at me directly, and said , " I had to come back earlier than scheduled , and the Head Office had asked me to nominate two of my most efficient doctors for a special promotion next month. You know, I had almost sent across your name , but I'm thankful now that I didn't send it, and myself checked in you ! With your current appearance , it would have been a blunder on my part . "
    I stopped dead in my tracks . As the executive got in his car , I looked at him . He put out his head , curtly said , " Prepare for the next season , Titas ! " and left . I was dumbfounded. My little stunt with a stubble just cost me a reasonable promotion ! 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Who denies my right of Passion play??

     " Play well....and don't don't forget to tell us every detail of how it was , ok? " the sisters and friends all asked her before ushering her into her room adorned with flowers, where her just married husband was waiting . She had been married for only 48 hours, and as is the custom in Bengal , this was the Suhag Raat or the night of the 'Phool-Shojya' - the first night where the newly weds shared a single bed. To the young sisters , it was an occasion where their elder sibling was taking a giant step towards achieving 'adulthood' , while to the newly wed, who had till then , protected her body's sanctity like a temple , it was the hour to donate herself to her 'God' , her husband - chosen by her parents to have the rightful ownership over her body. 
              But being the novice that she was, she didn't know what to do ......she had never even held the hand of a guy before, let alone being in bed . The interaction with her spouse was clumsy , uneasy , and both lay in bed , unsure of what to do. The guy didn't know how to touch a girl whom she didn't know; the girl was lost in thoughts as to what to expect. Everyone in her family had arranged marriages  , as their extremely conservative household was dead against love marriage . It was, as if, getting into bed with a stranger first up , was perfectly normal, while marrying someone of choice was akin to sacrilege.
                 She felt awkward, she felt angry .......she did not see the good results that her mother had claimed she would receive, if she never went into 'bad' things like roaming in parks like young couples do. Who was this person with whom she was going to share her most precious belonging - her body? He had a few degrees at renowned institutions, but what did he do to earn her body ? Why had her parents given her the licence to sleep with a guy whom she had barely managed to know , when the same people had vehemently opposed any male friendship that had developed during the course of her student days? Wasn't this hypocrisy - as their ploy to 'protect' her from unknown evils contradicted their decision to marry her off to somebody who was a stranger ? 
          She fell asleep. And in the morning, it was the routine of trying to take the refuge of 'blushing' , to avoid the questions that were difficult to answer. 
           But why should we get into bed with the women of our lives , for the first ever time , only after marriage ? What is wrong if we indulge in pre-marital sex? We've been brought up throughout our lives, preparing for exams for months . Why then , do we have to sit for the ultimate physical examination, without getting to rehearse it ever before? 
             We as Indians are too preoccupied with the syndrome of "What-Others-Think". In a country where Godmen take women into their den to force them into nefarious activities in the name of the Lord, it is deplorable that parents detest a relationship that a girl gets into. The same parents might take their daughters to these Godmen, but would feel severely aggrieved if they discover a guy's photos in their girls' cellphones . So pre marital sex is unthinkable . A girl's body is the citadel, which needs to be protected ,till she's married off to somebody . It doesn't matter what the girl feels, or wants our patriarchal society , what counts is the dad's wish to marry her daughter off with a groom from a family of repute . 
           Somehow, we are still regressive enough to consider sex as a taboo.  Nobody wants to believe or say that sex is an essential part of every human being's life and sexual compatibility is an absolutely essential. Our forefathers wrote the Kamasutra , giving attention to all the intricate details of lovemaking . I don't imply that sex should be the only criteria that goes into building a relationship , but it is definitely an integral part of a happy relationship . That's why many people, after getting married , discover that they are never satisfied , and this unhappiness spills onto the conjugal life too. 
      In my opinion, pre-marital sex in a relationship can help establish the couple's bonds even more. On the other hand, if they are not really happy , it can compel them to ask of themselves whether they can continue with the relationship forward in the long term. There's absolutely no point in getting into a marriage ceremony with huge fanfare, then discovering that the couple don't really enjoy each other in bed. The general understanding that society wants to make us believe is that two people will get married, develop a relationship, and the 'sex' part will automatically be there. While I don't rule out this scenario , which I would like to believe , happens in most successful arranged marriages, I feel , it is not the case in an overwhelmingly large number of couples. One cannot overlook the pleasure element of sex, for some mundane activity that is part of the daily 'chores' of a married couple. No , never ! Great sex makes people happy; marriage has no connection to the satisfaction aspect. 
           The sexual liberation of the modern age had never quite made its mark in India previously, and so, people were not likely to open up about their sex lives. Therefore, many couples have continued in their marriages , despite not being happy at all, by accepting their way of life. This has been the issue with many women, who would not dare speak up about her sexual dissatisfaction . Naturally, generations have grown up under the notion that matters involving sex should never be discussed....its a bad thing to do . Marriage is actually the legal consummation of sex , but sadly enough , sex itself, and the partners' compatibility with each other is the most ignored part.
              With more women becoming independent, and the disparity amongst men and women getting wiped out progressively , the customs that were existent amongst our older generations are gradually ceasing to exist. Younger generation are more open to sex , and they feel it's a necessity . The logical reasoning is, when two people are in love, why  should they hold back , if they want to hit the sack together? In any case, human beings are probably the only living organisms who have intercourse for recreation ; to all other animals, it is a necessity for reproduction only. Today's generation are hardworking professionals, reeling under pressure from all aspects , and so, recreation to them is of utmost importance. We have young couples , staying in different cities, getting to meet only on weekends or once a month. Who can deny them their right to  have a session of sex that acts as a tremendous stress buster by releasing hormones ?? Can anyone ask them to defer their activities till they tie the knot? No , nobody can . It's their lives they are living , and nobody needs to point fingers at a couple engaging in consensual sex.
       The educated girl of today is not worried about having to preserve her virginity for the time she ties the knot : she is bold, confident and not concerned about holding herself up as an epitome of purity on the altar of marriage . Rather than getting bogged down about fictitious prophecies of misfortune if she sleeps with the man of her choice before marriage, she enjoys her relationship and doesn't hold back . Unfortunately,the idea of 'living-in' is too difficult to bear for many of our parents......they feel their children would be committing a huge sin , and become the talking point of gossip that would ruin their family's social status . 
                 Girls have the concept of holiness of virginity hammered into their brains to such an extent that they are mortified of losing it . The inhibitions are so great, that many who have gone ahead in a relationship and taken to action between the sheets , do suffer from guilty conscience, as if they have committed some grave errors. Even guys are not necessarily exempt from such premonitions. Parents rebuke guys , and they are vilified if they come to know their son has 'kissed' his girlfriend . While this is unbelievable , it is well imaginable how they would react if they know their son actually had sex !
               There is some thinking that is behind this fear about pre-marital sex. Mostly since girls are compromised, parents fear that the girls would commit an error and may regret it later , if the guy cheats on her . Since the virginity of the girl seems to be the holy grail , guys can get into blackmailing her , and malign her. To add to the problems, in this age of technology, there is the dread of sextapes , and home made porn . These are real problems , but this cannot undermine the fact that real couples in love do get ostracised for their sexual acts. What does the society wants us to believe in ? Does it want us to indulge in platonic love ? Does it expect us to merely stare at each other and exchange shy smiles? When the souls are young,and the hormones running high, one cannot simply expect abstinence from physical intimacy. 
        With average age of marriage going up now due to more attention to building careers , the old concepts of losing virginity only after marriage are redundant . Our previous generations married off within their early twenties , and in the ones prior to them,the females barely completed their teenage before they were married off. On an average, puberty sets in around 12-13 years of age . So, the period of 'compulsory waiting' before one got sexually active was not more than 9-10 years in the past .
         At present , if one needs to follow what had been taught to us, this would mean , young men and women would abstain from having sex for 15/16 years at least after attaining sexual maturity . This is a ridiculous thought . The best years in a person's life are in the twenties , when the mind is fresh, and fitness levels are at their peak too. Losing one's virginity at 35 years of age isn't the same as doing that at 25 . For a couple to enjoy their sexual life , physical fitness is of paramount importance . However, the controllers of our society would like to get us married off at an early age perhaps , just because , they don't want to hear , we are doing what needs to be 'rightfully' done only after marriage .
             People these days are more aware about the problems associated with sexual relationships , and so , the general usage of protective measures to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases is quite high. Today's women are not afraid to go and buy Emergency Contraceptive Pills , and this has indeed been a change in society that has gone hand in hand with women empowerment. Whilst regular consumption of these pills is not safe enough, the pills are indeed a safeguard to calm the anxious minds after a session of unbridled passion. 
                 So, here I am, raising my hand wholeheartedly in support of sexual freedom .  Branding pre-marital sex as taboo should cease to become an issue , and should not be discriminated against . Rather , it should be a tool to help young people in love get closer together . Moral policing and raising ethical questions should not deter those wanting to savour the pinnacle of a loving relationship . There are many real issues in the society that needs to be addressed- real problems that cause trauma to life and property. Attention and efforts should be directed there, rather than trying to subdue the beautiful emotion of love that inevitably culminates in sex ! From time immemorial,sex has been the ultimate source of pleasure for two souls in love , and will continue to remain so ---- hence, assigning a temporal tag to it by declaring pre-marital sex as a social crime is utterly illogical  ! 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Trips with My Kids ....Looking ahead!

       "We'll wake up tomorrow at 4:55 AM, son!  Then we'll be off to see something you've never seen before! ",Dad had told me on our Darjiling trip. I was indignant...... It was too early to wake up,  when on a vacation,  and I demanded that I be allowed to sleep.  The defiant 6 year old in me hated it that without school or studies, I would need to be up so early.  But Dad had a glint in his eyes, and I realised it meant something special.  Indeed it was..... Sunrise from Tiger Hill was the most scintillating piece of nature's magnificence that I remember from my childhood!  Wrapped in woollen from head to toe,  I was amazed at the giant color palette that became of the sky as the sun made its way up from behind the mountains.  Like all tourists,  I had clapped in glee and my mum and dad were elated,  seeing that their son had appreciated the beautiful scenery they had brought him to see!! 

        Now that I've reached an age reasonable to be thinking of a family of my own,  I remember vividly,  how, I was brought up by my parents,  with three vacations a year.  I feel,  I should also look forward to present my kids with such opportunities when the time arrives in the near future!  I would gladly aid my kids on their ventures to make sand castles on sea beaches,  aiding them with their little spades to dig up sand.  I would play the role of a log of wood and ask my kids to cover me fully with sand,  quickly,  before the next splash of sea water wipes all of it away!  I would join them in their efforts to collect sea shells on sea shore,  early morning.....guiding them on how to select the beautifully patterned shells and save them!  Seeing them frolicking in the waters of the sea would fill me with immense delight and I would click the pictures, to preserve their childhood forever,  so that one day, they can see, how they were, in their childhood...... just as my dad had preserved my playful past through his photographs! 
              Taking my kids to see the Sunrise from Tiger Hill would certainly rank above all others in my places-to-take-my-kids list! My dad had infused in me a spirit of adventure by taking me for hiking trips from a very early age,  and I want to instil the same spirit in my kids,  so that they take up Rock climbing and River Crossing too. I would not be a Dad who would pester the kids to be studying all the time..... I would rather have them taken out on frequent trips,  long or short,  so that they develop the outlook to savour nature and respect it!  While on trips, they would relax like me, in hammocks,  slung between two trees at our holiday resorts,  and note down their experiences in their own words,which I would read, appreciate and provide words of encouragement!  Their little travel diaries would become loaded with their experiences, so that they can delve into their past,  from time to time,  and feel proud,  that they indeed managed to have an eventful childhood!!


Monday, 15 December 2014

Safety Begins with Self : a take on road safety issues in India

                One day, sometime in October 2002 , I was exposed to an altogether new episode of driving in India. I don't know whether to call it 'rash' driving , or 'mad' driving .....because either way, it was an insane experience , being driven by a genius of a driver , who perhaps had chosen a wrong platform to display his skills. He was the driver of an SUV that drove our tourist party of eight , from Lava Lolegaon to Kalimpong , on hill roads more convoluted than an entangled piece of wired headphone. As a 15 year old, I remember spending the entire journey , with my heart in my mouth , sitting beside the driver , staring at the speedometer once , and the breathtaking scenery on the other . Never did our driver slow down the SUV : at hair pin bends , he was at 30 Kph , while on stretches that afforded a little more length, he was consistently above 70 Kph...........and our road had a steep hill on one side, and 1000 feet deep gorge of the Tista River on the other ! 
        When my Dad asked him what exactly he was trying to do, he calmly replied, " Sir! This is the proper way to drive on the hills ! I'm sticking to my lane,driving alright, no ?? "  When Dad further said , " you might be correct , but the  drivers of cars coming from the other side might commit a mistake ! " To this , he had said, " But that is not my concern ,right? I'm not driving wrongly ! Trust me , I know my job people from the plains are too afraid ! "                    There was no further point in arguing with him , but to be honest , we reached our destination , without even a single untoward incident , which was unthinkable in such a difficult road , that had danger  all along . Our driver was definitely brilliant , and he was proud of his skills , but even after 12 years , I fail to comprehend why didn't he have the good sense to be a little more cautious ?? Or was it that he was incredibly blessed with driving skills and good fortune ? I'm reminded of his antics more so when on flat , plain land ,on roads as smooth as blocks of marble , people suffer from horrendous accidents , mostly due to human errors . It doesn't pay to be careless , specially when we're on the roads with high velocity automobiles all around, and not everyone can have superlative driving skills and good luck . So why flirt with danger ? Why not stay on the safe side of the law , and at least hold up one's own end ? Traffic rules are not exactly Hebrew , and even illiterate people can understand the signs .......but what we fail to understand is that the laws in places are for our own protection only , and not cooked up by the Traffic Law Enforcement to extract fines from our side.

               One of the major curses of civilisation is Drunk Driving . With every millilitre of alcohol that invades our bloodstream , our consciousness and decision taking abilities are suppressed just that extra bit more . It doesn't take my knowledge of medicine to know this ; everybody is aware of it , but good sense fails to prevail just when it matters . Most people cannot pass the chance to show off bravado at the wheels , and this trait  takes a turn for the worse , when 'high' on highways , people delay that fraction of a second due to impaired reflexes , leading to grievous injuries or loss of life.  The most unfortunate scenario arises when a harmless civilian or a law-abiding driver on the same road suffers from fatalities owing to the callousness of the drunk driver. The amount of awareness drives currently in India on drunk driving is appreciable , but needs to be maintained . Also , our officers-on-duty need to perform Breath alcohol analyser tests to determine the levels of drunkenness , and consequently , impose hefty fines for the culprits . There needs to be a register for repeat offenders , so that they can be slapped with higher sanctions. 

                                           Seat belt and helmets are two of the best devices that human beings have made to counter case fatalities due to errors . But we , as individuals get into an issue of ego , when asked to wear these devices . Many motorists consider wearing protective gears akin to an insult to their 'extraordinary driving skills' , as everyone nurtures an inner Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel ! Even though events like the NSDF has increased the awareness of wearing seat belts by 126% , there are 'wise' drivers , who simply place the seat belts across their bodies , without fastening them , so that they are not fined by the traffic guards . Many of my friends , who are avid bikers, hate wearing the helmets , because they say , the air rushing across the face gives them a kick, when they ride......but the helmet robs them of this kick! It has been beyond my wits to explain them , that not wearing a helmet can get them 'kicked' out of the world forever! In hospital , while on duty on Orthopaedics emergency , most cases come from motorbike accidents ....and our seniors used to joke that bikers provide bread and butter to orthopaedic surgeons! 

                Traffic sergeants can do random checks on people who they suspect having just placed the seat belts across their bodies . As for not wearing helmets , sanctions are already in place , but many times, the culprits take the help of by-lanes and alleys instead of the main roads, to avoid getting caught ! I would suggest random checks at the smaller roads by the traffic guards , to bring more offenders to book. 
               I don't know about the scenario in other parts of the country , but in Kolkata , casualties due to two private buses racing each other on the same route , are rampant. This occurs , as the helpers and drivers vouch for picking up more passengers per trip , and try to overtake each other , so that they are entitled to a higher commission , since their payments are based on passenger count. This menace has been long known in Kolkata , but the private bus owners turn a blind eye to the matter , as everyone looks after personal gains. Fixing a payment for each trip for the driver and helpers , irrespective of the number of passengers , should be able to bring down the number of offences . Also, if the on-duty traffic sergeants see such a scenario, they should communicate with other sergeants and  penalise both the guilty parties , before an innocent bystander is run over .

                                     Most people turn blind on seeing signs like "No Horn Please" or "No Parking" , and inevitably , in India , we'd find excessive car sounds where such a symbol is in place , or a vehicle being parked across a No Parking sign . These are often petty issues to the ones committing it. Many a time , a person sees a shop , and parks his car in front of it , to buy something , while keeping the engine running . Even though the road apparently looks empty while he's getting off, his mental time calculation is way off the mark , and by the time he has completed taking his change from the shopkeeper, there's a traffic snarl , with aggrieved motorists cursing from all directions , due to the car blocking a narrow road. 

         Another seemingly trivial rule , that can save a lot of trouble , is not opening the door on the wrong side of the road . Once we reach our destination, we are in perennial hurry to get down , and so, forgetting the cardinal rule, we open the door on the road side , inadvertently sending a cyclist coming from behind flying across the road by the sudden collision . Often , the issue is minor, but if misfortune strikes, then the person can fall straight onto the path of another approaching vehicle . This is an etiquette that every car driver should always keep in mind , because nobody has the right to trouble another individual due to carelessness. 

       Hands free mobile devices were invented to make it easier for people to communicate that they were on road, driving a car......and not to discuss an entire office project while on it. So , while phone car kits are welcome, focussing on a discussion is not , as the concentration shifts from what's on the road , to what's on the mind. We've also seen people bending their necks to insane angles to wedge a phone between the face and the shoulder , while driving a car or a bike . We need to remember , a phone call might get life's connection disconnected forever. 

  People have all sorts of superstitions about their cars, they follow different rituals , and hang specific items inside the cars to ward off bad luck. But It doesn't take a lot to obey rules, and it certainly means a lot if one believes that Road Safety Begins With Me ! Which brings me back to that hill driver in 2002 , who believed he followed all the rules, but lacked some common sense.

 Before pointing fingers at others for committing errors , we should register in our brains the knowledge imparted from sensitising drives like the NSDF , that has gone all out to make one city safe at a time. We at Kolkata , would certainly like to become a part of the Blue Citizenship of Nissan and have first hand experience of this venture , and the NSDF should definitely be held in this part of India to make more people aware of the safety protocols to be followed while on the road. 

Sunday, 14 December 2014

When I Conquered Fear

                                      As the youngest participant of the camping lot, I was exempt from the arduous river crossing session , that was meant to be a test of skill, resilience , courage and fitness. It was only the second year of my yearly adventure camping outings , in the Chhotanagpur plateau region , in the early years of the past decade . As one of the Instructor showed us how to cross a river , while hanging upside down from a rope, slung across a river running below, we stood , in awe ! Our instructors were masters at teaching us these skills, themselves being veterans of many expeditions that put one's life on balance . Even though the river below was not hundreds of feet beneath us, still, it was quite some distance below, and staring down at the rocky bed of the river with the water running at high speed did give us an eerie feeling . A few of my seniors looked wary of the situation , they exchanged nervous glances with each other . I was looking at each of them , trying to gauge , how they were feeling , as they were about to undertake one of the most challenging tasks of their camping curriculum . 
                        There were twelve of us in the group , with three instructors , who were shouting out directions as to what we were supposed to do , and how we should cross our legs along the rope , while not jabbing at the rope with our hands. Six of the seniors had to undertake the the session as part of their protocol to graduate to the next level of campers , but after about an hour or so , only two of them had managed to cross over , with almighty shrieks, fearful swinging in the rope. It was evident that even after thorough preparations on mock drills, they had panicked after being slung across the rope , and had acted like amateurs . The instructors were cross, since they felt their tutelage had not been heeded . The third senior went ahead , and slung on the rope , and crossed the river without much fuss , even though his legs had dangled from the rope once. However , he was appreciated for his efforts . The three remaining candidates had fear written large across their faces . It didn't look as if they were willing to do the task at all, and the instructors were discussing calling off the rest of the drill, when I stepped ahead ,and shouted , " Sir, I am up next!" 
                        Everyone around was shocked . Even though I had made a name for myself by my rock climbing skills in only my second year , this was entirely different. My Teammates looked anxious , the seniors had their jaws dropped . However, in my mind, I was throroughly replaying the mock drills at our campsite , where I had crossed the rope between two trees , with the instructors shouting out the steps . I felt a sudden surge of confidence , as I realised if I could remember my training , and not try to look down below over my shoulders , this would be similar to my training , only with a longer course . 
                             As the instructors on the other side of the river gave the thumbs up, I was fitted onto my harness , the protective rope was fastened and the carabiner attached , by my instructor on this side . I pulled on my helmet , donned my gloves ,  and was ready for action . " Good luck boy , there's nothing to fear and we're all here .......GO!" He hauled me up onto the rope, fastened my carabiner onto it and let go . I held the rope tightly , swung my legs across and quickly moved ahead . The initial awkwardness amongst my peers after I volunteered for the task , now gave way to whoops and cheers from everyone around , and I felt the adrenaline pumping . 
                                The first real jolt came as I crossed the level of land and felt the breeze along the river right across my face. It was cold , and I realised that I was now out on my own , with nobody nearby . My mind was trying to focus , onto what I should do , when I felt the rope swaying vigorously . This was not what my training had got me ......this was real vigorous swaying , which was accentuated with my swift crossing onto the first one-thirds of the cross. " Slow down", I told myself , in order to soothe the nerves , " slow down ", I again told myself . The fingers were beginning to ache , and my shoulder muscles felt the strain . In an effort to get my feet going once again, I lost my grip on the rope in one leg , and instantly felt I would fall. So I kicked my loose foot to catch the rope  , and in my efforts , the rope missed my trouser , and went beneath it , to now hinge me on the skin below my socks . There was no apparent trouble then , but just as I crossed a few more feet across , I felt the pain that was evident on the friction of the rope on my shin . I clenched my teeth , and surged ahead . There was no scope of me to adjust my feet now , as I realised I was midway through my cross , and the rope had descended its farthest . 
                              " There was no need for doing this got yourself into this trouble by your cockiness ", a voice was cursing me within my head , as I hung still,  to lessen the strain on my aching muscles a little and catch my breath . The voices of my two instructors on this side were faintly audible , " Come on Boy , come on .....bravo boy! " I was weary , but this got the energy flowing right across . I gritted my teeth , opened my eyes once again , and pulled ahead . The rope was rising once more , and I understood that I had nearly done it . The friction point on my leg was now burning , but I hadn't yet yelled out in fear , so I decided that I would give it my all , in this last leg of the haul , and not undo the good work . 
                       I pulled ahead , with the instructors' voices now ringing closer than ever , and in the final few moments , shut my eyes , clenched my hands , and tried to work furiously on the rope , and before long, my shoulder had been touched comfortingly by one of the instructors . They hauled me off the rope , unfastened my carabiner , and put me on the ground . I was exhausted, my hands had gone numb .......and for the first few seconds , my brain failed to register the exultation of my peers from across the river . Then it dawned ........I had managed to conquer fears , and crossed an extremely difficult course , without giving myself away to panic! 

             It was a day of extreme satisfaction for me , and although the point where the rope grazed me on my leg had a bad bruise, the pain was considerably lessened by the  appreciation and adulation I received !! The task was by far one of the most thrilling memories of my life , and held me in good stead whenever I dreaded something in future. 

Friday, 12 December 2014

Cleanliness - Why isn't it Godliness anymore??

                    A few days back,I had just reached my workplace,  when one of my friends called me up excitedly, " you won't believe what I just saw, Titas!  This Swachh Bharat campaign has transcended human beings and reached other creatures too !" I couldn't make anything of his statement, and I also had a few patients waiting already,  so,  I needed to hurry him on.  He went on, " just now, I was having my breakfast,  and was staring outside at the lane below our flat,  when I saw a woman carrying a packet full of waste come out from one of the neighbourhood houses. Then, to my utter dismay,  she looked left & right to make sure nobody's looking, before dumping the packet right on the footpath and heading back briskly.  Two pieces of stale bread also fell out of the packets.  At this precise moment,  one of the street dogs of our area came running towards the packet,  and I feared the worst...... That it will tear apart the packet and spread the garbage all over the lane. I had to rub my eyes to believe what happened next........... The dog picked up the relatively heavy packet in its mouth, carried it to a nearby vat & dropped it there !  Not only that, it came back to retrieve the two pieces of bread too!!  "
      I was stunned.  There was no way in the world that my miser friend would spend his phone's balance to tell me some made-up story early morning , just for the sake of telling it!  Even as I attended to my patients,  I pondered over it.  How did an animal inferior to us, realise the value of cleanliness,  when we as human beings have failed to educate ourselves!?  Is it a collective failure,  or just an aberrant individual,  who simply refused to abide by the basic rules that make a human being?
                 That evening,  after coming back home ,  I made it a point to mention this same event in our Whatsapp schoolmates Chat Group, where there are about 54 members,  spread across the country and abroad.  Since it was quite a large sample pool of educated individuals,  I wanted to see what the response was to my question regarding cleanliness and sanitation.... Have we indeed degraded as individuals to levels below that of animals,  or was it a one-off incident?!
     Most of my mates doffed their hats to the dog, but surprisingly,  a few said that this was a made up story,  to gain some undue attention!  I tried to reason with them, that this was not...... And a healthy debate was raised on the issue of Swachh Bharat!        Interestingly, this section of friends,who didn't believe my story, turned out to be the ones who declared they would eat a packet of chips and throw the empty packet by the roadside. They argued that there was nothing wrong with it,  and they even asked me,  if I carried all my empty packets with me in my pockets,  after finishing the food!!  In their opinion,  it was the duty of the municipal corporation to maintain proper bins at the roadside,  and if one was not visible on the roadside, then there was nothing wrong in throwing the packets wherever they wish!!  Fortunately enough,  the number of these blokes was less,  and the other group of friends maintained, that they indeed carried wrappers in pockets or bags until they found a proper bin to dispose them off!
       So, it appears that being raised in urban households haven't imparted the civic sense in many of us!!  We won't cringe at somebody urinating out in the open,  stating that he was only responding to nature's call, and also defending him by saying,  it is better off than ruining one's pants!  But, we've been given something called a urinary bladder,  that has a capacity to withstand urge for a fairly long time, and we can indeed train ourselves to hold our urge!  But since we've grown up believing that relieving ourselves out in the open, is a birthright, we don't think twice before pulling down our zippers to commit a public nuisance!  The problem isn't with our bladders,  it's with the brain,  that simply refuses to accept the need for sanitation!

       The same brain forgets to tell us to flush public toilets after use,  or to press the sprinklers,  because,  it's always like, 'why will I spare an extra second for the next person's convenience' ??  We,  as a nation,  won't look after the next person's is almost as if thinking about aiding the next person is a sacrilege!!

          I go back to the days of my third year in medical college,  where we had a much hated subject: Preventive and Social Medicine ( PSM). Among the myriad of things it required us to learn,  there were dimensions of septic tanks,  as well as hygienic latrines and toilets.  Naturally,  all of us young would-be  doctors despised the subject. Especially,  the field visits to villages were considered to be terrible ordeals,  as it required us to measure the distances of drinking water sources from that of community latrines.  However,  it was during one of these field visits that I came to realise that the dimensions mentioned in our textbooks were meant only for the printed pages,  and was a far cry from what we saw in reality. At places where getting a little bit of space to accommodate families was the main motive, nobody cared for hygiene .  So,  the only tubewell,  the source of drinking water was at a distance of only 12 feet from where the latrine water ran off!!  It was no longer unclear to me as to why diseases like Typhoid were endemic in our country. Values at which other countries consider a Widal Test ( test for Typhoid detection) as positive,  we let go of them as something called 'local titre',  ie, our cutoff is a little bit raised,  because some amount of Typhoid infection is prevalent in most of us due to the local prevalence of the disease!!
     The rooms in the village had a single window,  with only a single ray of light managing to make its way into the middle,  and so,  all provisions of natural  illumination in a room, that were there in our textbooks, were farcical!! Along with overcrowding, there was this surge of diseases like scabies,  ringworm, and certain viral disorders.
          Handwashing,  considered to be one of the best prophylactic measures to prevent enteric diseases,  was nearly a foreign concept at these places. So far were the villagers from reality,  that many of them didn't even have the knowledge that Handwashing with soap and water is a must , after defecation!!!! And to top it all, there was open defecation,that is a huge problem across most of rural India, even today.
         So,standing at this point of time, the Swachh Bharat campaign is a step in the correct direction, towards resurrection .  It's a pity that something that should be within us by default by virtue of our human birth,  is now something we need to all  learn over again!  The proverb " Cleanliness is next To Godliness"  needs to make its way into our minds once again  ,  from the textbooks of our childhood days.  It's not a huge thing that we are asking of ourselves, it's just that we,  as individuals,  have got to stay adamant,  that we won't litter our surroundings. Each of us needs to correct the other when someone is doing wrong...... Not take other's mistakes as the excuse for committing errors ourselves. Chewable Tobacco products, that people spit around, staining all our edifices and roads, need to be banned forever.  The priority should be on building sanitary latrines in all of rural India,  so that open defecation ceases to exist.
       These would surely ensure that Cleanliness and Godliness are put in the same bracket once again..... And it will surely ensure that India as a nation,  moves ahead!!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Hunger Free India

 "..... And this is incredible ", the commentator's voice boomed across India,  " we have three sprinters who've finished with a sub-10 second timing in the 100 metres!! Unbelievable!  And all of them are yet to finish their schooling! If the national trials are anything to go by, we're sure to be a force to reckon with, in the next Olympics "!!

       The front page news of a leading daily reports," ……The pass percentage in India's school leaving examination has crossed a record 90% this year! Students from the small towns and districts have fared very well and in some places, have surpassed the students from the big cities and metros. We're probably seeing a new wave in Indian educational scenario, where the discrepancy in educational acumen is narrowing down! ……"


        The new dawn in India's horizon was a direct consequence of a policy by the Indian government authorities to ensure that no child went hungry. Every people's representative made it his/her prerogative to give paramount importance to school child nutrition and look after quality control of the food being served.  Diarrhoeal diseases following school meals became almost non existent, and school dropout rates fell drastically. The whole country gradually marched ahead, to haul up the national literacy rate toward that achieved by Kerala!

       At the moment, this might appear to be a work of fiction, by someone who has deliberately turned a blind eye to the problems of protein energy malnutrition plaguing the country . Kwashiorkor and marasmus are almost like epidemics, rampant in the lesser known parts of the state.  But,  one word that can galvanise us is BELIEF !  Proper planning and implementation can really help root out this evil, and the strength of the young brigade of India would then be evident in all forums.  If children don't have to worry about their next meals, they can concentrate their energies to bring out the best in them, thereby collectively taking India forward.  Of course, the changes won't be evident overnight and it will require immense patience and goodwill, but in the long run, it will surely pay rich dividends!!