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Monday, 29 April 2013


“….Demolish my Goddamned house….”

Can we keep our plants within our boundary walls like this?
(Having received from the society for over sixty years, I decided to give back to the society in whatever humble way I can. I thought the best thing would be to serve selflessly our small community, a DDA colony comprising only 204 flats, inhabited by highly educated upper-middle class strata of the society.
What I am going to share from time to time under this series is my true experiences of interacting with the residents of the colony, without any malice towards anyone. The purpose is to share the prevalent value system as well as to share my own feelings of amusement at their behaviour.)

A particular road leading into the colony is definitely narrow and it has become narrower as the residents have planted trees in front of their flats. We all love trees and need them for oxygen, greenery, beautification etc. However, many residents have also covered some extra space along their outer wall by making it pucca with brick and mortar and by planting permanents plants and shrubs. Now after this, there are cars parked on both sides of the road making the approach road even narrower. The result of all this was that when a flat recently had an incident of fire, though the fire brigade arrived within minutes, it could not reach the flat.

Recently, the Management Committee of RWA, after continuous efforts and vigorous follow-up made Municipal Corporation agree to put interlocking tiles on both sides of the road that they thought will beautify the colony and have some sort of value addition for it. This was a good opportunity to widen the road from wall to wall. We cannot cut the trees. Neither can we remove the cars of the residents. Therefore, we thought that we would request the residents to remove voluntarily the encroachments made by them on the public land.

The owner of the first flat, a well-educated senior citizen, we approached with folded hands, started shouting at us, “You do whatever you want to do, but you dare not touch my plants. You can break this goddamned house of mine if you want but don’t you even look at my plants.” Our humble requests made with folded hands fell on deaf ears. As he continued to breed more plants for his gamlas, we retreated gracefully.

Incidentally, this "gentleman" has nicely covered with solid stones a small piece of mother-earth provided to him by DDA in his flat and now is hankering after public land for expressing his love for the plants in the most uncivil manner to fellow residents least bothered about an unforeseen exigency of a fire-brigade required by a fellow-citizen, which may be a matter of life and death for some. 

I understand that the desire to possess land is an eternal one and this was a crude manifestation of that. The fact of the matter is that Municipal Corporation, if they so desire, can easily demolish this unauthorised construction extending into the public land any day but a common man is not willing to listen to the polite appeal of a fellow citizen made in the interest of better community living. 

Hum aise hee hain.... (That's the way we are....)


Thursday, 25 April 2013


Mr RC Sharma ( 25th April,1926 to 19th January, 1997)

It was a lazy Sunday morning some 45 years ago and I was studying for my forthcoming exams.

“Ding dong” the call bell announced arrival of a visitor. Reluctant to leave my books, I was relieved to see my father moving towards the Drawing Room. The initial exchange of greetings was partly audible in my room and distracted me. However, I tried to concentrate on Karl Marx. “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his need…”

The orderly walked in, “Saheb has asked for three cups of tea for the guests.”
“Ok. Keep three cups of water for boiling on the gas. I am coming in two minutes,” I told him detesting the idea of getting up at that point of time but I had no choice. 

The conversation outside was hardly audible. Who were these visitors, I wondered. It was normal for most people to become extremely humble while talking to my father, perhaps because of his position of authority that he held or may be because he was so upright that nobody would dare ask him for out of turn favours. Ignoring these thoughts, I turned back to my notes.

“The water is boiling,” the orderly informed me. As I got up and moved towards the kitchen, I suddenly heard a loud thud from the Drawing Room as if something heavy had been thrown out on the lawn. My father’s voice was loud and angry. He was shouting at the visitors at the top of his voice, “Get out of here! How dare you…”
I rushed back to my room to gauge what was happening outside.

Let me confide in you that there was a small peep-hole in the window between my room and the Drawing Room. I struggled through it only to see that a brief-case half open was lying on the lawn with bundles of 100 Rupee notes strewn around in the green grass. My father was shouting at the visitors to get lost. Soon I witnessed those suited booted “gentlemen” stuffing the wads of money back into the briefcase and leaving with their tail between the legs. My father banged the door after them and came in.

I rushed back to my study table and buried my head in the books as if I had not heard or seen anything. My mother had just come out of the bathroom and enquired, “Who had come? What happened?”
“Nothing! These b*** think they can bribe me. They had brought five lac rupees so that I let them continue with their illegal activities. I have kicked them out,” he sounded cool as a cucumber
“Served them right,” was my mother’s spontaneous response.

“Ab chai pilao.” As he said this, I sprang up from my table and rushed to the kitchen to prepare three cups of tea.

Four decades ago, the value of five lac rupees was more than five crore rupees of today. Were you never tempted, dear father?
If you were alive, I would have asked you who gave you such strong values and courage. Was this my grandmother who inculcated these values in you? Or was it my mother who stood by you never raising any demands and managing the household within the limited salary of a govt. servant?

How did you manage to live by your values in this world of greed and avarice? Were you never tempted? Why is it that some people like you, despite humble background and limited means, stick on to their dearer than life values while others have no qualms in collecting wealth through unscrupulous means despite having abundance of it in their lives? Among all your qualities, I admire you most for your honesty. 

I once again salute you dear father for your strong values which all of us, your children and grand-children, have imbibed from you, have been nurturing them and carrying them forward. Although you left us more than 16 years ago, you continue to inspire us.

Today on your 87th birth anniversary, we bow to you in respectful homage.

Friday, 12 April 2013

49. THE MECHANISM OF STRESS (Published in State Bank of India Monthly Review, September 1985 Issue)

Shri Ramachandran, 48, is a Joint Secretary in the Department of Education in a State Government. He is an overactive, high-strung, dynamic and extremely responsible officer- an achiever in the true sense of the word. He is fond of good food, cannot spare any time for any exercise and is consequently about 18kg overweight. These days, he is tense and irritable. The paper-mills in the country are closed down due to strike and there is acute paper shortage in the State. The schools, colleges and the universities are going to open in about three months’ time, but there is no paper available in the market. How will thousands of school going children commence their studies? Shri Ramachandran has been entrusted with the responsibility of tackling this problem by the Chief Secretary and he has accepted the challenge but no solution appears to be coming through. Fear of failure is haunting him. “If I cannot solve this problem”, Shri Ramachandran thinks, “I will fall in the eyes of my superiors…… For once I will fail to perform the task entrusted to me. It has never happened before.” He works day and night, thinking and worrying, snaps at his wife, snubs the children, but does not share his mental agony and torture with anyone. Meanwhile, he develops some pain in his chest. He ignores it. The pain persists. He chews too many anti-flatulent tablets and forgets it. Two days later, the pain shoots up suddenly and radiates to his right arm. There is a choking feeling and cold sweat appears on his forehead. He has just suffered a heart attack. With timely medical aid, he survives the attack, but is laid in bed for six weeks. The doctors discover that his blood pressure is high and so is the level of cholesterol. In addition to the medicines, he is advised to control his diet so as to reduce his weight immediately, bring the level of cholesterol and the blood pressure down and is advised to take a short morning walk and increase it gradually.
The case cited above is not unique. We all have come across such people in our day-to-day life. Constant stress combined with an unholistic living pattern is the biggest bane of the modern life. Stress, according to some sources, is the single number one killer of the twentieth century.

What is Stress?
Dr. Hans Selye, a world known authority on stress has defined stress as the “non-specific response of the body to any demands made on it.” To understand this definition, we must understand the meaning of the words ‘demands’ and ‘non-specific response’.

What are Demands?
Demands on a body can be of different types. These can be physical, mental, psychological or even biological. Accordingly, overload of work, too many deadlines, a demanding boss, a non-performing junior, a competitive peer, excessive touring, quarrel with the spouse, an attack of influenza or anything may act as a DEMAND on the body and this can be a source of stress. These demands or stressors are invariably present in the environment whether it is the place of work, the social set-up or the family circumstances.

How Stress is Generated?
When the individual psyche reacts with these stressors in the environment, stress is generated. It is not only the existence of a stressor or demand in the environment, but also how one perceives it that determines the degree of stress generated in an individual in a given situation. This would explain why the level of stress varies in different individuals in more or less identical circumstances. How one perceives stress in a given situation depends to a great extent on one’s judgement of threat in it and the degree of this perceived threat depends upon one’s expectations from self and others, perception of others, others’ perceived perception about self and one’s own aspirations. The degree of stress also depends upon one’s past experience under similar circumstances, his/her individual enduring traits and situational components, especially current needs and activation level. Thus, stress is the non-specific response of an individual, which may vary from person to person and from place to place. Even a slight change or variation in these two components, i.e., the environment and the individual psyche, will affect the response of the person. Hence, the variation in the level and intensity of stress in different circumstances.

How does the Body Respond in a Stress Situation?
How does the body respond when it meets a threat? According to Cannon, the response invariably, is either ‘Fight or Flight.’ As living beings live in a constant state of stress, the nature has provided an inbuilt defence mechanism in the body, which gets activated as soon as one perceives threat in a particular situation. The most primitive response which can still be seen in the animal-world is ‘Fight or Flight.’ When an animal perceives threat, it either fights with the enemy or it flees from the situation. For this, the nature ensures that extra energy is generated in the body to enable it to save itself from the threat, gravity of which is judged by a part of the brain called hypothalamus. The brain accordingly signals the autonomic nervous system, which in turn activates the endocrine glands. As a result of this, certain hormones are instantly secreted into the body. Consequently, the eyes widen so that the animal can see better; the heart beats faster and the blood pressure goes up so that more blood is pumped into the system to meet the need of the hour; the breathing becomes quick to enable the lungs to absorb more oxygen in the blood; hunger dies off so that energy is conserved and used for survival purposes and muscles tone up and burn more glucose. All this is nature’s system of ensuring that the energy of the body is diverted into one single channel, i.e., protecting the body from the onslaught of the enemy threat – real or perceived. When the animal uses up this energy either in fighting or fleeing, these hormones are neutralised and the body returns to normal.

The Executive of today can resort to neither fight nor flight. Although his initial reaction to threat would still be that of ‘Fight or Flight’ only, circumstances compel him to maintain a cool demeanour even if he is seething with rage inside. It is under these circumstances, when he is exposed to stress stimuli on an ongoing basis and stress hormones are pumped into the system without providing a proper outlet by means of physical activity that some distortions in the defence mechanism of the body take place. The eyes, which constantly widen to see better, cause headache and visual strain. The lungs breathe rapidly so that more oxygen is supplied to blood, but may lead to hyper-ventilation under stress. Similarly, heart beats faster and the blood pressure goes up so as to supply more blood to various parts of the body, but this may result into palpitation of heart, a heart attack or a stroke. While the nature is preparing the person for ‘Fight or Flight,’ the blood starts clotting quickly so that the bleeding stops if the animal is injured in the process. In its distorted form, this may cause a clot to form in the blood, which may lead to coronary thrombosis. Similarly, muscles in the system also tone up to facilitate easy movement of the body, but may go into spasms and may cause tension aches and pains in the body. When the heart muscles are affected thus, this may cause angina pectoris. In order to conserve energy for ‘Fighting or Fleeing’, the nature also switches off the digestive system. This is why the person loses his appetite and the saliva in the mouth dries up when he is under a stressful situation. When the digestive system is affected, stomach-aches, flatulence, hyperacidity and duodenal ulcers follow. Let it be clear here that this reaction is nature’s system of ensuring the person against the perceived threat, but the distortions take place because the extra energy generated for the purpose of ‘Fight or Flight’, is not neutralised by any such physical activity.

Do Emotions Affect the Level of Stress?
As the genesis of stress being in one’s mind, which helps in the judgement of threat in a situation, emotions play a very vital role in generating stress and activating the endocrine glands which produce stress hormones in the body. When one has positive emotions like love, tenderness, hope, joy, courage and equanimity, the system is stimulated just to the right extent and generates only that quantity of hormones which is essential for protecting the body against the external threats in day-to-day life. But the negative emotions like anger, hatred, rage, frustrations, failures, rejection, disappointment, aggressiveness etc. overstimulate the system to prepare it for a stress situation and the protectors of the system eventually become its destroyers. This is why exposure to excessively strenuous situations when accompanied with positive and healthy feelings  may not lead to any side-effects, whereas a much lesser degree of strain accompanied with negative feelings may be extremely harmful to the system.

Is Stress always Bad?
Despite all the bad effects of stress o the human system, stress is a force to reckon with. It can be easily compared to electricity. Just as less flow of current is ineffective, lack of stress in the life will make it boring, monotonous and insipid. Conversely, an excessive flow of electric current will destroy the system and excessive stress in a human body will make him ineffective, unproductive and sick emotionally as well as physically. Stress is a bad master but a good servant. In right measures, it is a dynamic force and a motivating factor—a potent source of change and harbinger of progress in the society. What is, therefore, needed is not avoidance of stress but its proper understanding and management.

(Published in State Bank of India Monthly Review, September 1985 Issue)

Monday, 8 April 2013


“I have brought Pinni to Medical College today,” announced Rajan on phone. “She has been unwell for quite some time and the doctors at the Medical College have advised her to undergo an angiography at the earliest.”
“But why Medical College? Will she get there the care that she deserves?” my husband Shiv could not hide his anguish.
“…Because it is totally non-commercial. The decision of the doctors there is not governed by monetary considerations,” there was finality in Rajan’s tone.
“Rajan, but the inconvenience that she will have to undergo there? I am sure money is not of consideration in your decision.”
“No, it’s not. It’s my lack of faith in other commercial hospitals.”
Shiv and Rajan have studied together in school and can discuss anything under the sun without any reservations.
“Ok. If you have already decided, tell me if I can do anything. Shall I bring your lunch to the hospital?” asked Shiv. We know that there are restrictions on Rajan’s diet as he himself has undergone cardiac bypass surgery a few years ago.
“Ok. That's welcome, but I’ll give you a call when her process is over. You should start from home only after that.”

I packed the lunch and started waiting for his call.

At 12.30pm, a nurse from the Cath Lab of the Hospital called, “Your patient who has undergone angio this morning has come out. Please get some soup and porridge for her lunch.”

It was a surprise thrown at me but I instantly took off with pans and ladles and dished out some tomato soup and porridge with mixed veggies, both fat-free and mildly salted for the heart & diabetic patient that Poonam is.

At 1.20pm, I received a call from Rajan, “Where are you guys?”
“Just outside the hospital.  Will reach there in ten minutes.”
“Wait for me. I’m coming downstairs,” he said.
It took us much more than ten minutes to enter the main gate of this prestigious medical college in the country as it was choc-o-bloc with autos and pedestrians. Even an ambulance was struggling to find its way in. Rajan was at the gate. We picked up the lunch hamper and  followed him.

Such holy confusion in the place! It was so awfully crowded. There were so many people mostly from lower strata of society, moving around and so many others lying on the roadside where there was some shade. Most of them were quite old and sick. There were small children crying and aged people moaning. Some were even lying on stretchers. The temperature outside was already 39C.  As we quickly moved towards the Cardiology Wing, I wondered how much time would we have taken to reach there on our own. Thank God! Rajan had come down to escort us.

“You can’t go into the Cath lab area with shoes on,” Rajan enlightened us. We left the shoes at the entrance unguarded and went in.
“Don’t be surprised to see her on the stretcher. They are short of beds.” Was Rajan being defensive of his decision?

As we approached the corridor outside the Cath Lab, I was shocked to find Poonam on a stretcher and panicking, “Ohh…It’s still bleeding. Give some more cotton.”  A young lady in a colourful silk saree was standing by her side tightly pressing the wound with both her hands.  A nurse came and handed over some more cotton to the woman and walked away non-chalantly without uttering a single word.

I was too zapped to figure out what was happening. I asked Poonam and was aghast to hear that the wound in her thigh, where they had inserted the catheter, had started bleeding profusely, perhaps because of a bout of cough she had.

It took me some time to realise that the woman in the colourful saree was not a hospital staff but a patient herself.
“Where is the nurse?” I asked.
“They all have gone for lunch. Aunty ji, it is lunch-time for them now.”
“And you?”
“I had come here to pick up my report and saw her in pain and bleeding. Therefore, I thought, I’ll hold the cotton for her. You know some other patient had done the same thing for me three days ago when I also started bleeding like this only after my angiography. After all, she is like my mother only,” she smiled lovingly.

For next one hour, she continued standing by Poonam’s side maintaining the pressure on the wound while I fed soup and porridge to Poonam. I wanted to take over from her many a time, but she insisted on continuing.

The nurse walked in merrily after an hour and announced, “No bed is available yet. So you continue here only.” Saying this, she left without even enquiring about the wound and the bleeding although she saw this untrained outsider maintaining the pressure on the wound.

Apathy and empathy, carelessness and concern, insensitivity and love for humanity, neglect of duty and selflessness, all negatives and positives of human character got mixed up at that moment.

While I felt humbled by the selfless service lovingly extended to Poonam by this complete stranger, I was full of rage for the Nurse on Duty in the Hospital. 
But I am still wondering who was the real avatar of Florence Nightingale!

(Based on my real life experience today.)

Sunday, 7 April 2013

47. A WOMAN FIGHTS FOR WOMEN (Times of India 21st November, 1998)

(As published in The Times of India, Lucknow on November 21st, 1998)

Mrs Sarla Sharma working for the upliftment of women
She was in her early teens when she decided that she would devote her life to the upliftment of women. Today, Sarla Sharma, Vice President of All India Women Conference (Lucknow branch), is working towards fulfilling her teenage resolution.

During the early 40’s, women were confined within the house. It was a time when women’s education was low and the parda tradition was in vogue. The condition of women was deplorable and they dared not raise their voice against social injustice, informs Mrs Sharma.

Mrs Sharma was in high school when she joined Mahila Mandal. The job of the Mandal was to persuade ladies to attend the meeting, an extremely difficult task as their family members were dead against it.

After completing her intermediate, she was married to a civil servant. Her desire to work for the upliftment of females was suspended but she continued to pursue her education.

At the age of 36, she joined DAV College, Dehra Dun. Classes were usually conducted in the morning session. After doing her daily chores, she used to catch the school bus. She recalls an incident when while waiting for the bus in the foggy weather of January, ADM and SSP’s jeep stopped in front of her.

They offered to drop her to her destination. She was highly embarrassed and on their insistence said, “I am going to attend my classes.”  They were surprised and questioned her why at this age she is undergoing all this trouble. She replied that, “I did not want my children to think of me as illiterate fool and neither do I want my husband to develop any sort of complex before others.”

Mrs Sharma tried to help the women and children at every station where her husband was posted. And slowly her urge to work for females culminated in her joining the AIWC.

She contented, “We have constructed maternity home, family planning centre, training centre for imparting education to girls so that they can not only stand on their feet but also get educated.”

They have recently opened a chikan training centre. Apart from women’s welfare, she is also working for older people.

She is proposing to develop pensioners’ home for the aged. She says, “When the God has given me the opportunity to serve then why should I turn my back on it.”
By Seema Bhatnagar