Friday, June 19, 2009

Sports and Regional Pride

With the Wimbledon Tennis tournament two days away, the general craziness over football (next year's World Cup, the ongoing Federation Cup, Ronaldo's trade from ManU to Real Madrid, Drogba's suspension, etc.), the World 20/20 Cricket tournament currently concluding in England does not perhaps hold the sports enthusiasts' attention very much. The cricket aficionados even dismiss the 20-overs only format of cricket as an aberration of that so-called gentleman's game, Test Cricket with its lengthy format moving at a stately pace, tea-breaks and all.

In any case 20/20 cricket is thriving and here to stay. Its international championship is played every two years. India won the inaugural championship in 2007. The 2009 finals takes place in London on Sunday 21st June (14:00 GMT, Star Cricket). The finalists - Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Pakistan upset the favourites, South Africa, in the first semi-final. Sri Lanka, and a young man named Dilshan, cooked West Indies' goose in last evening's second semis. As a south Asian, even though I am more a fan of tennis and football, it is a matter of sheer pride that two South Asian countries will be battling it out for the honours on Sunday. South Asia, usually in the news for its poverty and other sundry malaise, reigns supreme at least in that stately game of Cricket. Watching these young men play cricket (well not all of them are that young; Sri Lanka's hero, Sanath Jayasuria, will be 40 in less than 2 weeks)I think of how the colonized have thrashed the colonials at their own game, how a sport has given young men undreamed-of opportunities, and wish we could solve all our problems through a cricket match, or a match in any other sports for that matter.

Sri Lanka is in the headlines these days not because of Jayasuria and company, but because of the recent crushing of the LTTE rebels by the Sri Lankan Army and the consequent hullabaloo raised by righteous hypocritical "human rights" groups. Pakistan has been in the news for a long time: Benazir, Talibans, Musharraf, US's "fight against terrorism" and all of that.

But come Sunday afternoon, on a green oval at Lord's cricket ground in London, the cricket teams of these two countries will face each other sans guns, sans religious fanaticism, sans hatred. Just a a sense of pure competition, the will to win, an opportunity to give one's best. Whoever wins, I personally am a Sri Lanka fan, the trophy will be held high with pride and the world of cricket will marvel at the heroics of these young men - from South Asia!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Jai Bandh! II

Further to my article "Jai Bandh!", published in People's Review, June 4-10, and also posted in this site on June 3, these photos were taken on 15th June when the YCL shut down the valley. These photos are mostly from the Balaju area, where the "jhadap" began.

Following that cliched saying about one picture and thousand words. The photos show (a) burning tire: symbol of bandhs here; (b) another burning tire in front of the welcome sign to the Balaju Industrial District; (c) a group of YCL activists; and (d) the police enjoying some shade. The rest is for your to figure out, think and take the appropriate action.

One thing I can and will say: as I walked to the Balaju Baise' Dhara Park and back, I saw about a 100 youth with formidable looking poles muttering about when they should start the stone throwing. There was not a single police outside the Balaju police station. I felt extremely safe walking along with these pole-bearing honchos.

Jai Bandh!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Such a Good Boy by Mark Zimmerman, MD, former Medical Director of Patan Hospital and currently, CEO, Nick Simon Institute, Nepal

That night in the Emergency Room, the area around the doctors’ desk was hot and crowded. Some people were trying to slide the charts of their own patients to the top of the pile. Others made yet another inquiry about the status of their relative’s treatment, or tried to gain an advantage by mentioning the name of some acquaintance who worked in our hospital. In Nepal, who you know is everything.

Paban the medical resident and I edged our way through the throng. It was time to divvy up the internal medicine patients. We sorted through the charts you take emphysema and this typhoid fever one, I’ll take this stroke and that pleural effusion. I went to search for a 16-year-old boy named Tej Bdr Tamang, whose left side of the chest was completely white on the X-ray (a sign that something other than normal lung was there). I found him in the wide, deserted outpatient hall, taking refuge from the bedlam of the ER. He sat on a wooden bench, erect, with his back to the wall. His brother beside him had jumped up to signal me when I’d called out Tej’s name.

I brought the boys in to an examination room, where the many stretchers left just enough space for a doctor to slide between. Patients’ clothing, bottles of water, half-eaten snacks, sputum containers, and urinals cluttered the tabletops and floor. Because Tej was too short of breath to speak easily, his brother told me about the illness. Three weeks of dry cough, fever, and now shortness of breath. I examined Tej and his reports, and decided that he probably had a tubercular pleural effusion a collection of fluid around the lung. He was sick and could not just be sent home on medicines, so I made arrangements to drain off some of the effusion.

It was quiet in the procedure room. Tej climbed up onto one of the exam tables. I helped him take off his shirt, a girl’s shirt embroidered on the front with three pink birds singing on a holly branch. After explaining the procedure to him, I put on sterile gloves, began to sort through my tray, and just then the hospital lights went out. That part of the Emergency Room was under construction, and the wall in front of us, as well as one in the room beyond, had been partially knocked down, leaving an opening out to the hospital courtyard. It was wide enough for the soft light of early evening to light the room, and for the pale purple of a jacaranda tree to accompany us Tej in his breathless anxiety, and I sorting, clinking the various instruments for pleural drainage.

The night was busy, with not enough nurses on duty, so I planned to have Tej’s brother assist me by pouring the antiseptics into bowls and handing me some xylocaine. Still, I was glad when Sushila turned up to help; better to have a nurse, especially with this boy being fairly sick. “This will sting a bit.”

A stoic lad though reed thin, he didn’t flinch at thee cold alcohol swab or at the jab of local anesthesia in his back. The fluid was easy to find. I fixed the position of the fat needle, about 2 inches into his chest, by clamping it near the skin, hooked up a valve and tubing, and began to drain him. Sushila held the outflow tube and a measuring jug. I pulled on the plunger. The big glass syringe became hot in my left hand as it filled with his fluid. I turned the valve and pushed. Foamy yellow liquid splashed into the jug.

The three of us formed a triangle, each brushing against the other two. Sushila spoke softly, intently to Tej.

Such a good boy.
You don’t even whimper, do you?
You are a brave young man.
So helpful to us, you are.
Such a good boy.

Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen syringes-full of fluid. I asked Tej how he was doing. “OK, but not much better.” I asked Sushila if she was getting weary. “Of course not.” The lights came back on.
Sushila repeated her litany once more and then I recognized the cooing words. I knew that she was speaking not just to Tej, but also to her own son.

I took care of Pujan two years before. He’d come to Patan Hospital with a sudden onset of severe headache and fever. It wasn’t meningitis, but that was about as far as we could go with a diagnosis. Our hospital’s equipment is limited and a nationwide strike that day prevented us from using the CAT scan across town. Pujan who never let his Mom walk to the hospital at night alone, who was tops in the local karate club, who gave portions of his food to kids who had none he died two years ago this month. The jacaranda was also in bloom then.

Sushila’s husband is one of Nepal’s better-known artists. The Christmas after her son died, Sushila brought me one of his paintings, framed. It hung in my apartment, reminding me of them. She was better that second year after he died than she was during the first, but that glow that she once had seemed to have disappeared. We spoke from time to time, in the hallway or between patients. She drew some small solace from mentioning again the virtues of her lost son.

Tej began to cough at the same time as the fluid came more slowly. The chest was near dry in that area. I pulled the needle out.
“Ah, isn’t he such a good boy? Doesn’t even whimper, does he, doctor?”

Sushila went off to measure and empty the jug’s contents. I taped some gauze over the puncture site. His brother helped Tej to get his shirt on. I walked back into the swirl of the main ER, to write up his papers for medicines and a return visit.

This was written by Dr. Zimmerman a decade ago, but is relevant just as much today, indicating how little Nepal has changed.
This piece literally brought tears to my eyes, blinding what I was reading. What I thought was going to be a fairly 'clinical' story bloomed into something far beyond. "... the pale purple of a jacaranda tree to accompany u..." - fantastic imagery! This may be a "non-political" story but the political/social overtones are there for all to see: poverty - Tej wearing a girl's shirt; the electricity going off; the crowded hospital; the name dropping; and, of course, the lost potential of youth, as signified by Sushila's loss.

Tej Bdr. Tamang survived and is alive and well today.

Friday, June 5, 2009

My personal protest

A funny thing happened to me the other day. Kantipath is partitioned down the middle with cinder blocks and rope. There are however 2 breaks in this partition, presumably allowing drivers to make u-turns when necessary. Not so! I took a u-turn on one of these spots a few days ago. Out darted a traffic police who was waiting to pounce. He told me that a u-turn was not allowed there. I protested that there was no sign indicating this prohibition. He shrugged off my protests and said that u-turns hamper the flow of traffic and are therefore not allowed. Mind you, my u-turn was a complete turn (no need for backing) and I was all set to head in the other direction.

So I had a few choices: (a) just ignore the policeman and drive on - this proved unfeasible because he stood in front of my car demanding my license; (b) run over the clueless man - not advisable since I do value my SUV; (c) lock my car and just walk away. Now, in retrospect, I should have opted for (c) but in the heat of the moment, I simply flung my license at his righteous face and drove off. Had to retrieve my license from the police station after paying a "fine" of Rs. 200.

"Law and order", "politics of impunity" and such other terms are bandied about freely these days. What law was that policeman enforcing? And did he not get away with impunity? Anyway, I plan to take the same u-turn today. This time I shall go with Option (c), making sure that my vehicle blocks all traffic.

So if you see a traffic jam on Kantipath, you know what happened. It won't be the comrades "struggling in the streets", just me exercising my democratic right to protest the lack of proper traffic regulations and signs in this beloved capital of ours.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Jai Bandh! (Published in People’s Review, June 4-10, 2009) by Birat Simha

Yesterday, 1 June, I had one of my most peaceful days in Kathmandu since returning here about two years ago. I walked from Jamal to Kaldhara to Lazimpat to Maharajgunj and back. The streets were sparsely populated with pedestrians, a few bicycles, one or two ambulances on emergency call, a few daring motorcyclists and one ironic motorbike with the pillion rider festooned in a red bandana and carrying a red communist flag. A few mom-and-pop stores were stealthily open. The rest of the stores were shuttered down as tightly as the Guantanamo Bay complex in Cuba is soon expected to be. There was almost a festive mood in the air, people walking in the middle of the street with hardly a care in the world. I felt good walking in the middle of the street too and hardly felt the heat of the afternoon sun.

I have concluded the following from the scenario above:
(a) There is absolutely no need for petroleum-based vehicles in Kathmandu within the confines of the ring road. We can all live healthier lives getting good exercise by walking (or bicycling) in a pollution free environment.
(b) The perpetrators of bandhs, and there will be many more now that the Maoists are out of the government, need to allow shops to open. There is no purpose in inconveniencing hard-working merchants during these bandhs. Inconvenience the elite driving around in their SUVs, but why pick on these shops who are simply trying to make a few bucks? Shutting down shops will not pressurize the government in any way. It does not really care, can’t you see?
(c) Let us institutionalize bandhs in our fledgling democracy. Just like it was/is accepted practice to air political views standing on a box at the corner of Hyde Park in London, let us all accept that bandhs are a means of political expression. Just let’s not close down the economy. This way, we get the best of both worlds. People will certainly notice a bandh while the economy does not have to suffer.

Yesterday’s bandh was apparently initiated by the “joint action committee for Newa Autonomous state” demanding, inter alia, the declaration of Kathmandu Valley as an autonomous state. Not a quixotic cause, I might add. If Madhes is to be one state and the other ethnic groups are also having a go at autonomy, why not the Newars? They are, after all, the original inhabitants of this valley. Since federalism is supposed to cure all our problems and Nepal has already been “declared” a Federal Democratic Republic, it is hardly surprising that various ethnic groups try and consolidate their political identity by demanding autonomy. Now let us see where federalism will lead us. Will Nepal break apart at the seams or will we become a strong federal state such as the US? There is a saying, “Don’t go to the cardiologist unless your heart is giving you trouble”. The politicians of “New” Nepal ignore this. They have made us secular, federal and God knows what else is coming, whether we needed it or not.

I mentioned somewhere above that we would be wise to expect more bandhs now that the Maoists have abandoned the government and are in opposition. They have this basic strategy of “struggle programmes from both the streets and parliament”. Fine, I guess this is democracy in action and every political party has the right to stop parliament from functioning, to create massive traffic jams, to present the people with the gift of insecurity caused by political cadres (who can also be called hoodlums) attacking everything in sight and, in general, shutting down the country for days on end.

Even as I write this, I hear chants in the street below. And today is not even a bandh day. We are supposed to be having a bandh break between the Newa bandh from yesterday and the Maoist “struggle programmes” to begin tomorrow. Someone is breaking the bandh rules! So we can expect a long hot summer and monsoon while this new government tries to govern, when it has time to do so while trying to survive. The “logical” conclusion of the peace process and the formulation of the new constitution are supposed to top the political agenda. I know not whose logic the peace process is following. And what about Development? Or have we been declassified from being a LDC lately?

The Indian Congress Party swept the recent election there having co-opted the Academy Award winning song “Jai Ho!” My tongue-in-cheek “Jai Bandh!” is a cry of frustration, no doubt. I can only plead that let not this country be governed by an endless series of bandhs, leading nowhere except into deeper depths of poverty, lack of governance and mayhem.