News Thoughts

A photograph can be a life changer

The Hindu today, carried a story on how a photograph clicked by a news reporter ultimately changed the boy’s life:-

A news photograph, a life changer How a candid shot changed a ten-year old’s life forever – A photo published in The Hindu changed the life of a boy in Assam and fetched director Jayaraj global acclaim.
Author: P.K. Ajith Kumar

MWSnap_007 2015-12-19, 07_57_57

Little Ashadul Islam was surprised. He had no idea why these two strangers had come to meet him at his village of Kuchani in Morigaon district of Assam on this Friday morning.
But the 10-year-old was in for a bigger surprise.
One of the men presented him a gift and told him that he was going to sponsor his entire education. For ace Malayalam movie director Jayaraj, it was a meeting he was pining to have, for over a year.
It was Ashadul’s picture that The Hindu carried on August 22, 2014, that inspired him to make the critically acclaimed film Ottal. The frame had the famished little boy rowing to safety his family’s salvaged possessions, a few goats, on a small plantain-trunk canoe that he steered with a tree branch through the swirling waters, in an almost surreal setting. The movie bagged a string of awards, and also swept most of the major honours at the recently concluded International Film Festival of Kerala.
“I want to find that boy,” Jayaraj had told this correspondent sometime back. “I would like to help him in whatever way I could. Please help me find him.”
The image, clicked by The Hindu’s Guwahati-based Special News Photographer Ritu Raj Konwar, had made a deep impression on him and Ottal was woven around its stark poignance. Jayaraj had even replicated that particular frame in his movie, which won the National and the Kerala State awards.
“Meeting the boy today is going to remain a special moment of my life forever,” Jayaraj told The Hindu over phone from Assam. “I am going to take care of all his financial needs. Besides, the charitable foundation of which I am a part will look after the health of the entire population of this boy’s village.”
Ashadul, indeed could do with whatever help he receives. He comes from a very underprivileged background; both his parents are daily-labourers in a brick factory.
It was the photographer who took that picture who took the director to the boy. “Ritu had taken a print of the photograph with him,” said Jayaraj, winner of six National film awards. “We showed it to the villagers, and they led us to the boy’s father.”
Sometimes a picture is worth not just a thousand words. It could be a life changer as well.


Stipend hiked for Medical Postgraduate residents in Kerala

Kerala government has hiked the stipend to postgraduate medical residents.  According to G.O.(Ms).No. 262/2015/H&FWD dated TVPM, 18-11-2015, the monthly stipend of PG residents with effect from 01-09-2015 shall be:

Junior Residents:

1st yr- 43,000

2nd yr-44,000

3rd yr-45,000

Senior Residents:

1st yr- 47,000

2nd yr-48,000

3rd yr-49,000


Settling in

So I’ve slowly settled in at my new place of work. The workplace is a nice environment. For a change, it doesn’t have the corporate aura that ceremented the previous medical college that I worked in. I guess the difference lies in the way management runs things. The latter was an institution that seems to have been started purely for financial gain. Patient care, and attitude towards doctors took the back seat there. Here on the other hand, doctors are respected and have privileges that come with responsibilities.

I’ve slowly acclimatized to hostel life, and monotonous canteen food. At least the food’s still good wholesome Keralite food.


>Hassles of Owning a car in Kerala

>We were to get a new Tata Nano which we’d booked right after the launch ceremony. Since we weren’t included in the first list of ‘allotees’, we had to wait for more than a year to get our car. Having initially booked a ‘Champagne Gold BSIII’ model, we later changed it to Yellow color after my brother said he preferred that color. There were hassles in getting the color changed, but after a couple of complaints with the Corporate Head of Tata Motors and the Head of Tata Nano, we got the color reallocated. Then followed problems with getting the car delivered from Kulathunkal Motors after registration.
For registration, we had to submit a proof of address and identity. I’d initially submitted my mother’s passport, since the car was supposed to be for her. The application for registration was rejected on the basis that the passport had expired a year ago. Logic doesn’t work with the Motor Vehicles Department. Does expiry of a passport mean change of address? A passport’s validity is for a period of 10 years. What if we’d moved right after renewal of a passport?
I phoned up the Motor Vehicles Department (hereafter known as MVD). They told me that they could accept only the Electoral Card, Passport or the address proof issued by the Village Officer. The electoral card was issued more than 10 years ago when our house was still in a ‘village’ (technically a village. Come on, if the heart of Trivandrum city is a village, what do you call a real village?), and hence the address read as “Vettathu, 351, Ulloor” while our ‘real’ address should also include our lane’s name and locality (Pongummood). Anticipating problems with the MVD, I set out to the village office to get a certificate from them. They wanted the tax receipt issued by the Corporation before they issued the certificate.
My father had last paid tax for the house three years ago. He didn’t pay after that because when he approached the Village Office for payment of tax, they told him to get the new revenue number from another office, Government Offices which employ staff who either sleep throughout the day at their desks or are vacant from their desks (for tea, lunch, games, or picking up their wards from schools amongst other family matters) seem to fail to understand the fact that the general public are also busy with their own personal affairs. Since I didn’t have the tax receipt, I told the Village Officer that I hadn’t brought it with me. He told me to come with the receipt on another day. I told him that I was a Doctor working in Health Services and that I’d have to waste another day of leave if I had to come again. That seemed to do the trick.
Note: If you want to have something done at a government office, you need to do one of the following:

  1. Try to do it in the normal way-waiting long queues
  2. Approach a clerk or officer, and explain your official title and position (if you’re employed in one of the State or Central Government departments). As for myself I failed to mention a subtle nuance that though I’m employed (temporarily) as a State Medical Officer, I’m working on Compulsory Rural Service. Why should I? He doesn’t need to know what he doesn’t have to know! 🙂
  3. Make one of your top government contacts call up the officer at the desk. These contacts may range from a retired officer of the same department to a senior officer at the Secretariat, to a Minister.
  4. Discreetly talk to one of the guards or peons at the department and ask them who to bribe. Note: I have never and refuse to ever try this method.
  5. If you have time to spare (30 plus days), submit your application, get the file number, and file a Right to Information application the same day asking for information on the status of the file. Technically they may still refuse the file, in which case you may have to resubmit the application with the information sought for. But in case you’re sure that your application is correct in all details, this will work.

I got the required certificate and visited the Tata Motors dealership at Kulathunkal Motors. There, I talked to Azad Harry Pothen, one of the Managing Partners (owners), who called up the RTO (big private firms often are on first name basis with big government officials. The reason must be obvious to you). The RTO told him that the certificate I’d submitted was not enough. Following Mr Pothen’s persistence, he agreed to accept the certificate.
Next day, the application was again rejected! They were now asking for the Election ID or Passport. The Passport had expired and the Election ID technically did not have the address recorded as we’d submitted in the form. 90% of the Indian population doesn’t have a passport. Does that mean they can’t buy a car if their Election ID details have issues? There are other identification documents accepted by the Government for other purposes, like Ration card, Driving License, PAN Card. Apparently the MVD does not accept any of these. Maybe they think the departments which issued these are as corrupt as them!
As of now, the car registration is still pending before the MVD. Since I’ve paid the registration fees to Tata Motors, I refused to pursue the matter personally and told Kulathunkal they had to do it. Even after Sixty three years of Independence, government departments are still as corrupt and inept as ever. The situation demands a radical solution. But forums like the Right to Information Act, and the Consumer Protection Forum are shod in legal technicalities. The State Information Commission recently posted a politician Sony.B.Thengamam as State Information Commissioner in blatant violation of the RTI Act. If there is no constitutional provision to see that even a Ministry violates the law, the fact that the situation at the MVD isn’t different isn’t strange.


>To cast away prosperity for silent honor?


When we finish school, there are a lot of career options. Many would have decided on a career choice in lower classes itself. There is the ubiquitous choice of trying to be a doctor or engineer, there are lesser trodden paths of lawyers, journalists, and various others. But what is the thought that runs through our minds when we choose a career. Needless to say, for most of us, it is a desire to earn money, a good social standing and have social security, a.k.a get ‘settled’ in life. But who chooses one of the finest professions, and decides to change lives and save the lives of people  hitherto uncared for, even at the cost of social isolation and no monetary remuneration? Some people do. We know people do because we know them by revered names or call them saints.

The story of the doctor couple Regi George and Lalitha has been acclaimed in many newspapers and magazines in India. I came to read of the story in a recent edition of the India Today and was moved. The story is that the couple sought out one of the poorest and backward tribal areas of Tamil Nadu searching for the place with the worst health statistics and transformed the population and healthcare over the years. They looked after the isolated and forsaken tribal people who had no access to modern healthcare and were at the mercy of ritualism, black magic and quacks, and cared for them by practicing Modern Medicine there.

They had to establish a hospital, and live with minimal resources. Initially they had to deal with the mistrust the tribal people had towards outsiders too. But as they saved lives, word spread and now their hospital has a heavy OP and attends to most of the labor cases. Infant mortality scales have been radically changed, and today Healthcare in the tribal village of Sittilingi, in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu is on par with the rest of the developed world.

It is not often that one can take such a big decision in life, forego a prosperous life in favor of a life wrought with hardships just for the sake of caring for people. What makes them different? What makes them decide to sacrifice their lives for others? What makes these normal people from ordinary circumstances godly? One decision to live a life of humility and service? How many have the courage and nobility to take that decision?

You can read about some of the stories reported about Regi and Lalitha here (Courtesy: Ashok’s Blog) :


>Two Off days


Though I had two days off from work, I couldn’t really read up as much as I wanted. Time seems too short nowadays. There was a time when I could just sit and read as much as I wanted. But now, with daily work, there seems to be a lot of distractions. Even days without work seem to flash past like those momentary scenes from a moving train.

I had a terrible experience with Kulathunkal Motors in Trivandrum, one of the two dealers of Tata Nano in Trivandrum. They had initially promised to give us the vehicle of our chosen color. But following full payment, they tried to cheat us into accepting the car they had in stock. It took a complaint to the Head of Nano Group and the Corporate Head of Tata Motors to solve the issue. Sales representatives over there seem to be of the opinion that the customer is supposed to be trodden upon. When talks with the rep failed, I asked to talk to the Manager. He wouldn’t give me the number.In addition, he tried to persuade me to accept that I was being difficult. Unfortunately for him, I record all transactional phone calls. One of the advantages of a smartphone is that one can record every phone call received without any hint of tracing.

Of course you could argue that I was being paranoid. And I may contest the argument by saying that I’ve got a great intuition, and did definitely have an inkling that something of this sort might happen. Anyway a stitch in time saves nine. Not a very apt proverb, yet I can’t think of any other! 😉


>The Memory lost forever

>Remember my older posts when whatever I wrote seemed to be speculative? Oh well, speculation happens when I’m moved by something. And since I’ve generally been busy living the life dictated by the odd turn of turns which saw me become a doctor (Sometimes I really wonder when I really decided I wanted to be one), I have had only few such events which have made me record such events for posterity. No, don’t get me wrong. I’ve had detailed diary entries for each year since my second standard, when my Father bought me my first diary. Ah I remember it so well. At those times, money had so much value. The diary itself cost Rs 25 (a huge amount in my memory, my father having taught me the value of money from my early childhood days itself) and was printed by Malayala Manorama. The early entries of course went like, “Today I woke up at 5 a.m. Amma made me coffee..”.. lol..
But as years passed, I began to spend time pouring my mind and soul into it. Diaries are excellent for introspection. And whatever you think, blogs don’t even come close. You don’t share secrets through blogs. Whatever you may feel while reading them, blogs are exactly what the author wants you to read. Just like novels. So, of course blogs are fake, and feigned. Anyway, my diaries have dealt with everything from Birthday presents, imagined breakups, death of pets to favorite books, school assembly speeches to farewell parties, entrance exams and failures.
Sometimes one must re-read diaries. There may be people who do that often. I don’t. I don’t know why, but once I archive a diary, the next time I see it is in years! But re-reading diaries broadens ones perspective. It is interesting how over the years ones likes and cravings change. The one thing you wished for years ago seems so small now. And the colors and sounds which you seemed to wallow in seems lost to you now. People speak of a child’s innocence. What’s it? A lack of knowledge about the world? Nope. It’s ones imagination. Remember the time when the world was huge. When from the time one walked to the school bus stop, got onto it, chatted with friends, fought with each other, played on the ground or park (the park itself seemed so huge). I remember each tree in my school, and the hollows in some filled with mud. I remember playing with tents made with friends. I remember…
This is my turn at nostalgia. I don’t feel nostalgia for my school. Not the school per se. I’m nostalgic about those memories, melancholic about not being able to see those friends as much as I want. Indeed I’m nostalgic of my childhood! Ever wonder how much imagination one had then? Ever remember how one would believe anything? How ghosts and demons were real? And how worldly cravings seemed so huge then but seems so limited now?
I remember living through Enid Blyton and Fairy Tales. I remember all those wonderful creatures that existed ‘then’. I remember of learning of chivalry and honor through those childhood authors.
Life goes on. One day those people who seemed to be constantly around you, being the source of inspiration, and who you took so much for granted, will be no more. You will grieve, yet the moment will pass. Memories which seemed etched on diamond will fade. And yet, there will come a day when you are alone, when you lie in bed alone and your mind flutters to those distant memories. Then, right then, you will wonder how you ever you took those people for granted, how you failed to appreciate them, and failed to make them happy. Of course that day will come, and you can do nothing more then, at least no more than you can now.
For me, introspection comes uninvited. During those brief flashes of clear consciousness, you will resolve to make those people around you happy. But life is tough. And whatever you decide, until the moment of grieving, until that forlorn moment of separation, until that moment when you realize that whatever that has happened is irreversible, that the person you grieve is not going to come back, you wouldn’t have done anything for them. At least not something really worthwhile. You are so twisted into your role of living life, of building a future for yourself that you fail to see those people who mattered and still do.
But probably for some of you who are reading this, that moment probably has not yet come. There still are people who long for your care and love. They may be friends, family, partner, teacher or other acquaintances. Have you really given them what they really deserve? I’m not talking about charity.. I’m asking you if you’ve really cared..and even if you have in your heart, have you shown them that you care? While they are still around to be made happy?


>An Ounce of Respect


Some people visit hospitals just for making trouble. There are days of rural service when one actually feels like one is doing a service. Of course, most of us Compulsory Rural Service docs feel like CRS is a necessary evil, there are those who stop it midway to pursue PG entrance preparations (I was in the set last year), but on most of the days, going to work gives me a sense of satisfaction. The Art of Healing (no pun intended) is one of the noblest, and though recent happenings and newspaper reports along with the acts of certain doctors might have reduced the respect of general public towards doctors, people still do appreciate and respect you when you cure them. More so, in the rural areas. Mine is a semi-rural (or semi-urban) area. Having worked in Nemom, an urban area, I can appreciate the sharp difference in attitude of people towards us.

Still there are people and episodes which sting, which makes you wonder why you bother to put in the extra effort to be nice. I’ve seen all sorts of doctors. I believe a majority of doctors in Government service have a languid spirit towards patients. The aim in most cases is to disperse the queue in front of the OP before the duty hours are over. I don’t claim to be special or different. I too like to be on my way when duty hours are over, still I spend time with patients and try to relieve their problems as much as possible (the aim of medicine, one comes to realize is to control symptoms and provide comfort. Cure comes second. Diagnosis a third. You think diagnosis comes before cure? Experience taught me otherwise. But that is another story!). So I felt rather affronted when a patient started speaking rudely with no provocation. He said something was wrong with his eyes. I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying. He repeated something.

In many cases, one can’t quite understand local slangs. I asked him to repeat again as I couldn’t quite follow him. He seemed to take offence at that and started verbally abusing me saying if I was incompetent to examine him, he could see another doctor. Without raising my voice, I told him that I couldn’t examine him if he couldn’t be well-mannered. I told him that as primary care physicians, I wasn’t really expected to undertake a close examination of his eyes, and could very well ‘just refer’ him to an ophthalmologist. He said he could just visit an ophthalmologist if he wanted. He wanted to know if I could treat him or not.

I don’t work well under ultimatums, and I told him that Compulsory service or not, a doctor whether a government doctor or private practitioner was entitled to refuse to see a patient if he wanted, and that he was welcome to see an Ophthalmologist. I handed him his O.P. ticket back.

Even though we’re employed in Government service compulsorily, we don’t have to condone threats from anyone. The guy was obviously the leader of some non-existent party, judging from his demeanor, and by the way he wanted to pick a fight. Doctors aren’t scum, and deserve to be treated with respect. One doesn’t walk into any other government office and misbehave with the official there. If he does, it’s bound to happen that the issue would be stretched in time, and take ages to get completed. In most government offices, you don’t see half of the staff at their desks either. We start OP punctually at 9 a.m and don’t even take a tea-break, though we’re entitled to one. So when one does his job properly, the least that is expected is to be respected for his job.

Of course this guy was an exception. Still as an old Malayalam proverb goes, “even a bite of a non-poisonous snake is enough to make one miss one’s dinner”!

Thoughts Workplace

>Love at first sight

>Yesterday, on my way to my hospital, I decided to take a short cut. I ended up losing my way altogether.

The road from Peroorkada to Tholicode meanders through a volley of hills, and passes through Nedumangadu. There is a lesser known road which goes through Nedumangad Town, a road which I’d been avoiding because of traffic snarls in the town. I’d returned a couple of times by that route,  but never before, taken it on the way to the hospital.  Since Saturdays aren’t usually busy in my hospital, I decided to give it a try.

The road
The shortcut is supposed to be 2.5 kilometres shorter than the regular road. So I was surprised when at the end of half an hour of drive, I found that the dash speedo was showing 4 km more than the calculated distance, with my target nowhere in sight. If truth be told, I hadn’t seen a single main diversion on my way. But guess I must have missed one of the smaller, more devious ones. Anyway,when I stopped at a wayside eatery and enquired on the road to me destination, I was petrified on hearing that I had about 20 kilometres more to go. The total distance from my home to the hospital is 30km, and I had already traversed 12 km when I decided on teh shortcut. Now, apparently, I had somehow managed to distance myself in the farthest possible direction! 

I got directions and proceeded at a slower pace. Two or three kilometres later, the road narrowed to a dirt trail with small streams on the side with crude bridges atop, made of felled trees. After a turn, the view in front was stunning. Huge mountains garlanded with cumulus clouds glistened in the rain, and the road in front was seperated from them by a deep abyss. The amazing thing about this was that I’ve often visited so-called Tourist destinations for enjoying Nature in its fête. But this, so close to home surpassed any other in beauty. And unbelievably, this still was Trivandrum district.
Scenery 2
I took a couple of photos. Being late for OP, I couldnt spend much time there. But I will go back and revisit. Such is the magnetism of Love at first sight!

Update: Next day, I got the fortune of following a VSSC bus along the same (or not) shortcut. To my consternation, I found that the turn I’d missed was the first turn after entering Nedumangad town! I’d gone straight ahead. If only I’d been humble enough to stop and ask.. But I guess if I had, I would have never discovered this tiny paradise. All it lacks is a shimmering lake flowing in the midst of the hills.

I take the shortcut daily now, and have not got lost again. But I didn’t get the pleasure of getting lost again too. Why couldn’t I have got lost when I had enough time on my hands? We go about seeking leisure trips. We plan elaborately. Yet, it’s those unplanned forays into the unknown that satisfy us. Such is Life. It gives us what we hadn’t hoped for, and often hides from us, that which we strived for!


Trip to Delhi from Chennai

It was in November last year,that I’d first visited Delhi and Chandigarh. My memories are still fresh with reminiscences from the first time. This visit, however, was a totally different matter altogether, and it was just businesslike (read exams!).

I boarded the aircraft from Chennai. The trip to Delhi was a routine affair. Economy flights are cramped. To get out and to go to the loo, both people sitting next to you have to get up (if you have the side seat. I always do!). And if you’re a guy who likes to maintain a healthy homeostasis (fluid balance! Get it?), you do have to get out a number of times. Cabin crew seem so matter-of-fact nowadays. Powdered faces with wanton fleeting smiles don’t actually make you comfortable. Once I was in my seat, I wasn’t allowed to get out to get my headphones from the luggage rack. So much for Spicejet’s on-flight hospitality. I remembered warmly of my last flight on Spicejet in November. I’d even written a recommendation note as feedback about one of their air hostesses. And before you even ask, she wasn’t just pretty!! Her hospitality was excellent! 😉

Last time I’d travelled to Delhi alone. This time, however, I travelled with a friend, so it was more fun. After four hours, the plane deserted us in the inhuman Delhi heat. Though we’d decided on getting food from the airport, we couldn’t find any food outlets at the exit. Finally, we thought of getting a Metro to the Connaught Place, but finally ended up eating from a food outlet in the Metro station. Our train to Chandigarh was at 3pm, and we’d almost four hours of waiting time at the railway station, which we’d planned on spending in reading at the railway waiting room. The distinguishing feature about the AC waiting room in New Delhi railway station is that there isn’t any! Of course, there is a sign directing you to one, but after navigating the busy terminal, we saw a room which its door wide aloft (which meant no AC!). But even worse was the fact that there were at least 100 people crowded in a small room, sitting or sleeping on every square inch, nay, millimeter of space. So that was one plan dashed. We winded up sitting on a bench near the train. I read a little, but was hampered by the severe heat. At the opposite platform, we could see crowds of people pushing each other, all vying for a space on the incoming train. (See photo).

Finally it was 3pm, and time found us carrying bottles of cold water onto the UHL Janshatabdi train. The AC sitting coach was quite comfortable, except for the big (I meant obese!) Punjabi lady who got in at Kurukshetra, and argued with the TTR loudly, disturbing my studies. The coach was packed with PGI candidates (Post Graduate Institute, Chandigarh. Didn’t I tell you that the trip was for writing the entrance test for PGI?). The train was delayed by half an hour, but finally at 7pm, we hailed at Chandigarh station. With experience behind me, I confidently went to the bus terminal. But after twenty minutes or so, we couldn’t find a bus to our destination. And it was getting late. It was then that we got the help of a Good Samaritan in the form of a girl from Himachal Pradesh. She was trying to get to her hostel, which was on the way to our accommodation. The three of us took an auto to Sector 17, and she was even so helpful as to arrange a rickshaw for us too, even fixing the rates with the driver! It set me thinking that if people from H.P were so helpful, H.P should be a very interesting place indeed. She told us that she was doing her Masters in Pharmacy in Chandigarh, and offered excellent suggestions about all the interesting places to visit in Chandigarh.

After an hour, we reached our boarding at YMCA, Chandigarh. I’m a bit of a planner, hence, though the room at YMCA was one of the most coveted when it came to PG aspirants staying for ‘one-nights’, we had one of the best rooms, since I’d booked it four months in advance (on the day PGI exams were announced, to be precise). The air-conditioned room had cost Rs 1100 for two people, but it was cozy and roomy enough to house five. And since we’d come in from a Delhi that literally burned, the room was like paradise. I read for a couple of hours. It was then that we saw the news of the air-crash at Mangalore. It was shocking. It was chilling when it hit upon us that we’d been flying from Chennai to Delhi at that time, that the other flight was on its way to Mangalore. It’s never wise to read up too late on the eve of an exam, especially if one’s in a foreign place. So we slept early.

And I did wake up early too. My friend was late waking up, as usual. After a bath, we had breakfast from a nearby Dhaba. The food was delicious, and we were almost late for the exam. The exam was at 8 this time (It was at 10 last time), and we got there only by 8. I should’ve gotten there in advance, but actually we were under the mistaken impression that 8 was the time to report at, not the time of commencement of exam. A minute after I got to my place in the room, the bell stated ringing for commencement of the exam. PGI Chandigarh exam itself is tough, and time is just not enough. I rushed through the paper without confidence, and finished it without satisfaction. I hadn’t prepared well. But for the last couple of weeks, my studies were hampered by the travel from Speed. Some day I will describe in detail, about the experience at Speed Medical Centre, Chennai.

The return from Chandigarh to Delhi by bus was tedious. If it weren’t for the boys who jumped onto the bus at each junction to sell cold water, I’m sure most of us would have suffered heat-strokes. At the Inter State Bus Terminus at New Delhi, I sent off my friend in a prepaid auto, and took the Metro to Janakpuri. Though I’d stayed in Delhi for only a week last year, it was almost like I knew every place on the way. I didn’t have to ask for the way and didn’t have any problem bargaining with the cycle-rickshaw-wallas. If it weren’t for this special class of workers, travel in Delhi would have been cumbersome indeed.

After staying in Delhi for the night, I took a return flight from IGI Airport. I’d paid for economy, but got executive class by a nice turn of events. Unfortunately, I left my cellphone charger in the flight. After extreme heat in Delhi and Chennai, I returned to find Trivandrum beaming under a heavy monsoon.