Musings of a Pioneer: Let us be more Humane!

I was in Corbett for a three day Literature Festival. I had two diverse, yet, strangely related conversations during my stay.

I met an 80-year gentleman author, a Punjabi, born in Lahore in the undivided India. Well… Not really 80, but going to be 80 in the next few months, but he wanted me, and I am sure whosoever he met, to know, with a twinkle in his eyes, that he had crossed a milestone.

But my blog is not about his age. He crossed over to India with his parents and siblings as a 4+ little child at the time of partition. His family chose to go to Bombay and not Delhi. He still has memories of living in the camp and using communal toilets for 8 years, or almost till the start of his teenage years. His father was a well settled government official in Lahore.

The circumstances did not deter him. This gentleman studied and joined the merchant navy. He sailed on ships till in the early 80s, he was on a holiday to Goa with his wife. He loved the place enough to decide to quit a well paying job, and settle in Goa four decades back. He established a ship building company. At some time, he said enough is enough, called his solicitors, vertically split the company in two parts – one for each of his two sons.

He now writes books for the pleasure that it gives him.

The other conversation I had was the next morning during the mandatory jungle safari that we must indulge in whenever we are in the vicinity of a forest, even if it is at an ungodly 6 AM on a cold winter morning.

We did not have the privilege of having breakfast with the famed four-legged animal, the tiger. The forest was a lush green after the monsoons, but we were just a wee bit… let us just say… not so happy.

Sensing our disappointment, the guide and the driver attributed the lack of sightings to the government decision to relocate four of the tourist friendly tigers to another forest. They were equally vehement in claiming that the same animals are nowhere to be seen in their new habitat. I cannot vouch for the veracity of the claim, but then the locals must know.

Migration of any nature would be traumatic – be it humans or animals. My new Punjabi friend has made a success of his life by dint of hard labour; but he still remembers his life in the camp, particularly the communal toilets. Decades have failed to erase those memories, though he tries to cover the trauma flippantly.

The tigers may not have the emotions that we usually attribute to humans, but translocation seems to be equally traumatic to them. I do not know if they would retain these memories to the end of their lives, but for now they seem to be impacted.

Is it not time for us to step back and pause to reflect before we take the next step towards anything that is less humane!

Musings of a Pioneer: This Life That We Take for Granted

I always believed that we are products of our dreams, our pursuit of those dreams, and our experiences along the way. I may have been wrong. We probably identify more with our fear of the unknown, pre-conceived notions, and biases.

The last one year has been a traumatic, yet milestone period for me. I faced two major events. The first was last year when I was admitted in the covid ward – my first hospitalisation. Night had fallen. The attendant gracefully permitted my wife to accompany me up to the lift. The lift clanged shut as I looked at her, was it the last time that I would be seeing her! Such drama!

No visitors were permitted. I only had the company of the nurses, the attendants, and the other two patients in the room. I longed for physical visits by my loved ones, who tried to cheer me up through multiple video calls every day – but it was just not the same. I was almost paralysed by the terror of death. I did nothing to help myself.

It was also during this stay that I realised what it meant to be dependent on others, though dependence on others in daily life is a welcome, yet often unnoticed feature. For the first few days I could not even go to the toilet without oxygen support, which meant that I had to call the attendant, and hope that the limited supply of both the attendant and the cylinder was not in use by another patient.

The second event was more recent. I underwent surgery – again my first. The trauma came prior to surgery in the form of my apprehensions. What if the doctor started sawing me up before the anaesthesia had taken effect, or if I did not come out of anaesthesia, or worse if I did not survive the surgery.

I kept procrastinating and postponing on one pretext or the other as I passed through a myriad of such morbid sentiments. I was afraid to take the next step for fear of the unknown, till the morning I was on my way to the hospital. The rest of the morning was a blur, and soon I was walking to the operation theatre accompanied by my wife – often an unacknowledged support. Now that the moment was upon me, I walked in confidently, looking forward for the uncertainty to end.

The anaesthetist pricked my spine and I started losing sensation chest down. I was unable to raise my feet, however hard I tried, or even blow into the doctor’s cupped hands. I found that I could not even clear my throat as the act required me to cough from the pit of my stomach, which my abdominal muscles refused to support. I remained terrified of not coming out of this induced paralysis.

It was at this stage that the nurse tried to blindfold me. I have a phobia of blindfolds and I resisted, scared of not being in control of another sensory organ. It was also during the surgery that all those parts of my body which were not numb started itching. My hands were restrained, and I had no option except to ask the nurse to scratch me. I was dependent on others, and not liking it.

We take several things in our lives, and probably life itself, for granted, till we are reminded about our good fortune by events. People get paralysed, lose their eyesight, sometimes even their limbs. We do not take the next step fearing the unknown, afraid of failure. Yet, there are many instances of people overcoming their handicap through sheer courage. And are we not dependent on others even in our daily lives, without even acknowledging such support!

This past one year has been a defining period for me – to pause and reflect. Are we not scared of pursuing our dreams for fear of failure! Are we not fighting with each other over petty things – religion, politics, caste, community! They would mean nothing in the final reckoning as we eventually turn to ashes or dust. But till we face the eventual truth, should we be held back by our preconceived notions, biases, or even the fear of the unknown, or should we rather focus on our dreams!

Empty corridors in the night, nursing station away from the room, nurses and attendants dozing on their chairs – it did give me the idea of a plot, a crime thriller, as I lay on my hospital bed the first time. Maybe one day I will write another novel.