Musings of a Pioneer: Change is Life

I am fond of reading newspapers in the morning and got into the habit of ordering four newspapers. The habit was cultivated when I moved to Delhi in 1997 and was in an industry where I wanted to keep track of the tenders announced by various government agencies. I have long left working for others and do not need to keep track myself; but the habit of reading four newspapers continues. I am not sure if the kind of news that we are now getting or is being generated by the media is worth reading in four papers, but I love reading the four leading daily journals.

While I may gloss over the main headlines in the main paper, I read the entertainment supplements in all the four newspapers, which also contain the daily horoscope. Unfortunately for me, this daily prediction of how my day is expected to progress is not published in the Economic Times, so it is only the remaining three that give me enough entertainment. I also go through what is written about the television and film stars and the serials or movies that they are going to be working in. One recent morning I saw a picture of Gul Panag, an actress whom I admire very much, wearing a dress, which she has had for the last 18 years. The point that she made was that the whole idea of not repeating a dress doesn’t quite matter to her. She said that she has repeated the same outfit many times over the last 18 years. The article also talked about another picture which the actress had posted a few days back – I do not know how I missed that photograph – in which she had flaunted a swimsuit when holidaying in Maldives, which she had fist worn 20 years back.

I love her acting and have always felt that she says what she means; thus, I will not impute any other motives to her statement or pictures. But if it was any other woman, I would have said that what she really wanted to convey was that she has maintained her weight and hence figure unchanged over a period of 20 years. This is indeed creditable and is something which very few of us can claim – least of all I.

I have been on a see saw where my weight, and thus my figure by implication, is concerned. I was an overweight child, which continued into my adolescence and as I joined my first job, even though I spent a considerable time on the badminton, lawn tennis and squash courts. It was at this stage that I decided to do something about it as the next important milestone was going to be my marriage, and I wanted to look my best for my yet unknown wife. I was at that stage in my life that I thought I was invincible, and so chose a most unhealthy diet of having only a packet of some namkeen and a bottle of coke or some similar fizzy drink. I brought down my weight from 70 kg to 59 kg at my height of 5 ft 6 inches in a matter of maybe six months. Then I was introduced to and engaged in a matter of a single day to my wife to be. The wedding date was also fixed, a matter of five months away. Mission accomplished, I gained some weight to be at 65 at the time of my wedding.

Then all hell broke loose. I started putting on weight, which kept fluctuating like the share market curve – going up, then coming down a little, again going up – like in a bullish market. The obvious culprit was the culinary expertise of my wife, or so everyone thought in the family; till she got tired of the blame game and told everyone that she also ate what I ate, and she did not put on weight. Very logical reasoning, which did not help my weight in any way as I crossed the century mark and then settled at 115 kg around 7 years back, when my foodie journey hit a roadblock – diabetes, in addition to the hypertension that I was nurturing since two decades. What was also embarrassing was that I did not fit into clothes available off the rack. I started losing weight and today I stand at 93, hoping to bring it down to maybe 70 in another 3-4 years; and I have also started fitting in standard size clothes.

It is good for me that I have realised the truth that change is life; I most certainly do not want to give up life, at least not untimely. Though if I had read the four newspapers more seriously, I would have realised that many classes in our society are adept at adopting this maxim, though not always in the interest of society. The top on this list has been the political class. In my growing up years, they were called aya rams gaya rams. Come election time, and there would be a flurry of activity in this class with a flood of people crossing or re-crossing from one political party to the other depending upon which way the wind was blowing. I searched the internet and realised that one Hon’ble member of the Haryana assembly by the name Gaya Ram changed his party thrice within the same day in 1967, and thus gave birth to the now famous or infamous phrase – depending on your ideology or your way of looking at it.

The year 1985 saw the passage of Anti Defection Law which sought to curb the practice of crossing or re-crossing from one party to the other for personal gain. We are humans and life will not be fun if we are not able to work around a rule occasionally, particularly if the act being contemplated is harmless fun.  Thus, a proviso was kept in the Act of 1985 that a movement of more than two-thirds of the members from one party to the other will not attract expulsion from the House on grounds of defection. Ah! So much more fun. I voted for one party, and by the time the government was formed, my ideology had changed along with my political party – in case the party had decided to merge with the ruling party. Like the members whom I had contributed in sending to the House, I also justified that it was beneficial to all concerned to be aligned with the government in power. And what does it matter if in the process some of the same members have gained a few or a few tens or a few hundreds of crores of rupees – after all it is for my benefit.

This practice of crossing from one side to the other is not new; it is probably as old as time itself. But the earliest that I can think of is Vibhishan deserting his brother Ravan to join Lord Ram. But that was for a good cause – for the good forces to defeat evil. In much later years, in the 12th century, Jaichand was supposed to have joined forces with Ghurids and was instrumental in the defeat of the brave king Prithviraj Chauhan. Wikipedia says that this is historically inaccurate. Maybe – but folklore has made both Vibhishan and Jaichand synonymous with treachery; though they probably did what they did to safeguard their self-interest.

Closer to our times, I look with interest at those big ads in the newspapers about the entire specialised team moving from one hospital to the other. They have obviously moved with a much heftier package and the senior most of the doctor in the team has ensured that those loyal to him also share the booty. Even professionals in the corporate private sector negotiate their terms with the promoters to include their most loyal team members to move from one company to the other. Thus, all these professionals are also making this change to better their financial life.

I recently asked my father that in case a very senior doctor treating my mother for cancer chose to move from the current hospital to another, then would my father continue to remain with the hospital or start visiting the new hospital? His response was obvious – he had trust on the doctor, and he will continue to visit the doctor, whichever hospital the latter decided to move. But in his own case, undergoing treatment for his prostrate, he continued to visit the hospital to a new doctor, once his regular doctor had moved to another hospital. The doctor in both the cases, and the respective hospitals, will continue to have patients, and will continue to flourish; but change for the individuals will mean a better financial package for them.

Not all changes are pleasant and can be downright stress-inducing. Like all children of my generation, I was also raised in a protected environment by my parents – though if this is the right way to bring up your children is very debatable. Anyway, when I moved away from the protection of my parents, and I was married and was driving a Maruti 800 sometime in 1985 in Calcutta, as it was called then, I failed to read the traffic signs, and moved in the wrong lane. I was obviously stopped by a smart traffic policeman who asked for my driving license. My heart beating wildly, I was on the verge of handing over my license to me, when my newly wedded wife nudged me, and asked me to give him some money instead of the license. I fumbled for my wallet in my pocket – my heart was now racing even more wildly and I was afraid that I may have a heart attack – that I took out whatever denomination currency I could lay me hands on, and handed him a much higher amount than was probably the going rate in those times. This was one characteristic of my personality that I could never overcome even as life hardened me. If there was any demand for an out-of-pocket amount to be paid, I would start sweating and my heart would start racing wildly. Now that I have completed 60 years of my life, I have found a simpler way out of it – instead of creating a medical emergency – I ask the traffic cop to challan me the exact amount as per law, even though there are hints to the contrary.

These and so many other similar incidents have nothing to do with self-preservation or self-interest or bettering the lives of individuals; and need drastic changes in the way our society works. And till these changes come, I say cheers to the downward changes in my weight; and no change in the dress size of Gul and many more of such beautiful women and handsome men.

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