Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On the Subject of Education and Healthcare: Some Random Musings

Last Sunday's Times of India has an interview with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen on how India is lagging being because of its neglect of education and healthcare. We, as someone marginally related to the field (wifey is a teacher, I have run around for sonny's admission to colleges), can comment on both these vital services which the government has bungled.

We take the example of Kerala, a state that is foolhardily important to us. Our brother-in-law is a government-appointed teacher there. He has a good life, a good salary, a car, a house, property from which he gets a monthly income, and will retire with a handsome pension which will rid him of all worries of the future. But he is not a happy man. Why? Because every year, come admission time, he makes around 100 frantic visits in his car to get students for his class. Only around six of them join, after much coaxing (free books, uniforms, mid-day meal, holidays) which is what they need to run a class. His worry is that if he doesn't get so many students the government will close the school.  In the same state there is rush for admission to private English-medium schools, where the admission rate is around Rs 30, 000 for a student. Come hail or high water these students from well-to-do families will not join a government school.

The government has spent crores of rupees on buildings and playgrounds and, yet, the schools are empty. Much the same thing happens in cities also. The craze is for education in a private institution, whatever their dictats (Which among other things include: donations, activity fees, tuition fees, and sundry other ways of drawing blood). These schools somehow manages to get good teachers and principals. And, also, their performance is measured by their results.

Now our questions are these:

Why can't the government schools get good teachers and principals, considering the pay is so good?

Why can't teachers with proven skills join government schools after a certain age? This is considering the government doesn't offer employment if a person is above the age of thirty.

If the results are good, and a good education is coming from government schools, will fidgety parents send their children to government schools?

Why can't the government be strict in evaluating its teachers and sacking a few (relegate them to desk jobs) if they don't perform?

Now on the subject of health care:

Many moons and many suns ago, when we were suffering from an ailment we saw an ad in the lobby of a nearby government-subsidised hospital stating that free medicines are availabe there for the ailment. We approached the desk and asked for those medicines. The clerk immediately came and took away the poster saying those medicines were no longer available. Some weird logic this! So where do all the free medicines given by the government go? You guessed it.

Recently, we had to undergo a surgery in a private hospital and spent Rs 80,000 on it. We put a claim for the amount with our insurer and were paid only Rs 20,000. Reason? We took an air-conditioned room with a television. The only reason we took that room was because it had a western toilet. But my semi-government insurance company woulddn't listen. We didn't have the energy to fight.

When we talk of free healthcare, which is a given in developed countries, our country fares very badly. We are dependent on private practitioners such as the private practitioners of education we mentioned above. We don't trust government-run hospitals because the staff there are rude and crude and are only doing a government job.

Now our questions are these:

Why don't people trust a government hospital where treatment is supposed to be free?

Why don't the government sack doctors and nurses who don't perform and, instead, give jobs to good nurses and doctors who have good private practises?

Where are the free medicines given by government to hospitals going?

Why can't the government pest control its hospitals? Some time ago we visited a colleague in a government hospital and was told that he can't sleep at night because of the bites of bed bugs.

Why can't the government which is getting so much money from software and outsourcing exports earmark some money to build clean, efficient, and effective healthcare system as even countries like China and Brazil have done.

Why does the common man have an inborn fear to approach a doctor, any doctor? People have lost their homes and entire savings trying to save sick relatives.

Has the government any answers to these questions? If they have I would like to know about them.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Another Weekend: Sujit Nair's Story

Just another weekend and we thought we would share some things on this blog, our own sacred space, our own world we inhabit.

We have got a job after a long time in a small advertising agency started by our friends and former colleagues. We are there as the copy person, so we can work at home and only go out for meetings. That suits our working style though our novel may be delayed.

Also, we are working in advertising which pays rather well. Our friend Sujit was one such, a ponytailed copywriter with our agency of the time. We envied his ponytail, which was thick and lustrous. He told us he drew a salary of Rs 4 lakh a month. We were incredulous. How can it be possible? With that kind of money he might be having a dream life.

No, all wasn't hunky dory in his life. He lived in an upscale area which cost a bomb, his wife and daughter left him because of his drinking problem. Yes, he drank. He invited us several times for a drink and we told him that drinking is not good for him, as we ourselves had given up the habit.

But habits die hard. Very soon he was in trouble and had to be admitted to hospital. The man who admitted him was his agency head, not his wife or his father. At hospital he made progress and soon was discharged with the admonition that he should give up drinking, which was spoling his liver.

He came to our office for meetings looking pale and emaciated. He jokingly called us "Jesus Christ," for whatever reasons we don't know. Being Mallus we shared a few Mallu jokes (or jocks as a Mallu would say). He was a fountain of jokes and sayings and we loved all of them.

Then his agency head called us one day to announce the death of Sujit. He had started drinking again and this time the drinks took him. We were shocked. How can it be? It can't be, surely he was there somewhere and this must be some kind of prank.

But truth was, he was dead. Though highly paid he had an unhappy life. One of his last jokes went thusly:

An ad man after dying went to heaven. God gave him the choice of heaven or hell. St. Paul showed him heaven and Satan showed him hell. In heaven he was shown a few men in white with some angels playing the harp. Then Devil took him to hell where men in white had scotch in their hands and the angels were playing hard rock.

So the ad man chose hell, seeing as how he loved drinking. But when he was led deep into hell he saw fire, icy mountains, and weird creatures. Drinks were not available, not even water.

"This is not what you showed me," he told Satan.

"Oh, that was just the advertising and marketing, this is the truth."

Rest in peace Sujit, my friend.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

India's Population Will Cross 1.5 Billion by 2100

Just read something shocking, and the accompanying graph (Sorry couldn't upload the graph as it was some other file type. However, it is available on the link above.) was still more awe-inducing to our queasy heart. See the graph herein. It says that in 2030 India's population will overtake that of China's and, horrors, will be 1.5 billion in 2100. 

Hm. Haw. Heck, that's worrisome to us. And to think that most of the 1.5 billion will live in cities, without water supply and sewerage. Son, what a world have we given you to inherit? While the population of U.S. and European countries will plateau (as many dying as being born) India and Nigeria would boom with people. What is fueling this reproductive frenzy, is it the climate change, is it the movies? Well, we don't know, we can't answer that.

But we can answer this: should population be curbed, controlled? Yes, yes, yes. Do something right away.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

On the Subject of Treyvon Martin

This makes us sick, really. We thought the U.S. to be a decent country where people of colour were respected. Seems Lester Chambers, a blues singer was assaulted on stage during a show. Well, we thought racism was done in the country and only the remnants existed in red-neck country of the south. No, it seems. Treyvon Martin is another victim in the long line of victims who were lynched or beaten to death in this great country professing equality of all people. A teenager, he was walking back to his house after visiting a store when the gun-wielding George Zimmerman shot him, in cold blood. He has done the right thing according to supremacists across the world, but we chafe, we cry for these crimes of utter human hopelessness. Zimmerman was acquitted as there weren't any eye witnesses to the incident, or, were they chicken to come out?  Are all black teenagers wearing hoodies criminals? We simmer with anguish, but we don't know how to protest this atrocity on humanity. Will justice be done, if at all? Who elected a white jury to try the murderer of a back teenager?

After black man Rodney King was beaten by policemen in a similar incident, he asked, "Can we all get along?" No. It seems the answer is no. The U.S., an assylum of contentment and opportunity for many is not a safe place for dark-skinned people. Blacks constitute 13 per cent of the U.S. population while whites are 77 per cent. So they are a majority and even if only half of them are racists they outnumber the blacks. Does it help that the president of the country is half black?

 The shooting of Treyvon Martin opens a can of worms, all well-fed and bigger than rats. To what extent people will go to prove that they are superior to others. A matter of skin collour (which we battle with in my novel Mr. Bandookwala, MBA, Harvard) is the biggest bane of humanity and will take it down the path of perdition, or, something near it, we are sure. The roots of this discrimination lies deeper than the thick skin of centuries slave traders and racial oppressors.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Life Goes On....

Since it has become a habit with us, we take our big brolly and go for a walk in the residential community of Artist Village. There aren't many artist living here except a Marathi novelist, female, who is said by the residents to have gone slightly mental. They revel in euphemisms here. We see her stop in the middle of the street to sing a song like a Bollywood heroine, also we have seen her sit on the parapet of the terrace, a quite risky place to sit. The few artists, calligraphers, movie extras, and directors who lived here have left, few of them commiting suicide, so it is learnt, from local folklore. The only movie director we know has directed Bhojpuri movies. He has good ideas about making films but now is unemployed and roams around with a camera taking pictures.

They stare at this strange gent in his heavy jacket, his potbelly, his air of partial renunciation. An artist is a strange being even in Artist Village. Now that hurts a bit. We have not been materially rewarded by life, we don't own a fancy car, though most of our neighbours have bought theirs in crazy show of oneupmanship. Now they are fighting over where to park them. We don't take part in their bitter fights. We do try to mediate when we are in the mood. But that's the profile of an artist, down a wee bit but not completely out. We forget about the lack of appreciation an artist gets, and walk, and walk. We walk alone or with a companion on sundays. A not exactly starving artist, but an artist who could have done with some more appreciation. An artist ignored by the world at large. We have invested in our better half and child and both are gainfully employed. Wifey, she amazes us. We made her do a bachelor in education and she has risen through the ranks to be principal of the school where she works. Now how a village girl has done that, we don't know. Son is drawing a salary close to what we drew at the height of our career. Which, to say the least, is life.

Ho hum. Life gives one shocks and it makes us recover. Most things we plan don't work out the way we want. We get something which is totally out of the way, we get deflected from our main purpose, either out of laziness or lack of drive. Most days we are in front of the television or online: surfing, facebooking, twittering, tinkering with our guitar, and blogging. Imagine what life would have been like in the eighties when we didn't even have a computer. Corporate life is out for us, no, we will not go there anymore. It's a bitch world full of fast-talking people who don't know what they are talking about. We didn't have one decent boss in all our years of corporate life. Except a kind Goan boss - who gave us our first foreign trip - who employed us three times when we were without a job.

Life is a saga that goes one. It's a walk, a never ending walk at that. All this we are writing after we come back energised from a walk.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Rest in Peace Chris Dickerson, He of the Movie Star, Rock Star Looks

He was a playwright, who had written plays that were performed on Broadway, no less. He was also a writer, a poet, a performer, a kind and caring human being. Many are the one-man protests he has conceptualised and done, standing all alone holding a placard which spelled out his message.

He was only an online friend and, yet, his updates were the ones we have looked forward to all the time. He became a friend through another online friend Marisa. And, he was the one man whom we wanted to meet, wherever he was when we went to the U.S., if at all. He was a great admirer of Peter O'Toole, as we were.

He had the looks of a movie star, a rock star, combined into one, uncannily resembling Humphrey Bogart, Kirk Douglas, Marlon Brando, and the old-school movie stars. We like old-school stars and their movies, very much, thank you.

This is a short elegy to a man whom I knew only briefly through Facebook but now that he is no more I feel the loss. His son posted on his facebook page that he was no more and also said that he was flawed. Yes, flawed, like all the rest of us on this planet, which is also very flawed.

Rest in peace Chris Dickerson, wherever you are now, rest in peace!

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Nigella Lawson- Charles Saatchi Affair

Something about the Nigella Lawson-Charles Saatchi (he, of the agency Saatchi and Saatchi) issue disturbed us. Here are two celebrities (within their own rights) having a fight in public as if nobody is watching. How often has this happened? In reversal of roles, a friend's brother - recently married (at that time) - was slapped in public by his wife and this ended in divorce. The issue is not of domestic violence as much as our ability to go out of control in today's circumstances. That the incident has ended in divorce is also worrisome. Why didn't she go for a divorce earlier? What was keeping her from going to the police?

We saw her cookery shows and the somehow forced smile on her face as she dished out fares we could only salivate over. We could detect a patina of melancholy on her face. She is attractive, plump in a pleasant way and a millionairess (whatever). Why should she stick with a man who, we don't know, may be a brute who would think nothing of strangling her in public? Yes, why? It bothers us.

Domestic violence is not only an issue between husband and wife. We hear it is rampant in India. A man wants control and when he doesn't get any, he goes berserk. We need to rethink why domestic violence occurs and whether there is a solution. Surely, women are reporting more incidents these days than before. But what about women who are totally under the control of the husband's extended family, as it happens in India?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Never Ever Give Up - the Story of the Farmer

We thought of sharing a little story we read just now. Goes this way: God appeared to a weak and poor farmer and asks him to push as a big rock right in front of his cabin. So every day for one year the farmer would push at the stone from the break of dawn till evening. His body ached, his crops died, yet he kept on pushing at the rock. Then one day Satan appeared and teased him, "Why are you doing this when you haven't got anything in return? Give it up. Don't be a fool, give up."

So he decided to talk to God about it. That night he prayed, "God what shall I do? I have pushed with all my might for one year and nothing has happened. Should I give up?" 

God replied, "I only asked you to push. You did that. See your arms which are muscled and twice as strong, see your shoulders they are broad and well toned. Now work on your field and you will reap twice as you reaped earlier."

So the farmer worked on his fields and lo and behold, his take away was twice as it was in earlier years. He also became a prosperous and strong member of his community. 

Sometimes, that's how God works. 

As we work on our novel (as you are doing on your own project) we have wondered many times whether we should give up seeing as nothing great is being paid back. But God has a plan for us that we should carry on the fight and never give up. The novel will take some more time, but, surely, it will come out in print.

So, for the time being, we admire our writing muscles and really take pride in our blog. God bless!