Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Little Girl's First Book

Schooling and Education has undergone a tremendous change in the last five decades.  Of course, it has been undergoing change constantly over several centuries and the last few decades is no exception.  But for us, having seen three or four generations in the past decades, changes that have taken place make an interesting study.  In our childhood days, schooling was something that hardly caused any worries in households.  The number of children in each family was large enough and provided sufficient examples to teach the early lessons in Arithmetic.  There was neither any need for queuing up near schools before the child was born nor planning for a child after ensuring that a seat will be available three years down the line.  Children were considered as an integral part of a family's wealth and every new arrival was treated as a new chapter in the Lord's scheme of things.  Nobody said "We cannot afford children" in those days.  If anyone grumbled about the high number of children in the family, an elder member of the community would admonish him or her instantly.  "People ask you how many children you have.  Not how much wealth you possess!" would be the refrain.  Basic concern for the families was providing food for all.  Other things were secondary and assumed to take care of themselves.

Schooling in our childhood days began at the age of five or six.  There was no concept of pre-schooling and pre-pre-schooling.  In rural areas, Government Schools were the ones available and met the requirement.  There were no issues about the availability of seats.  Like the proverbial "Pushpaka Vimaana" (an airplane that expanded its seating capacity as and when passengers entered it and always had one seat vacant for the next entrant), schools accommodated any new student without hesitation.  The school fee was also nominal and the concepts of "Freeship" and "Scholarship" were taking care of even this minimum fee in most cases.  There was no requirement of school uniforms and some students were lucky to have an acceptable level of dress on them. Uniforms became the norm later on in High Schools, say from eighth or ninth year of education.  Once admitted to first standard at age five or six, a reasonably agile student could reach a level of High School education.  College education was a luxury and only a fortunate few got that distinction.  A graduate was more scarce than "Doctorate" scholars of today.  The situation was slightly different in cities and some private educational institutions were available.  But the overall situation was nearly the same as in rural areas.

Early schooling, known as primary schooling, had only one book to study each year.  Written mostly in local languages, once prescribed as a text book it was in force for several years.  A single book was used by many siblings and was often sold as a second-hand book when there were no other children at home to use it.  Carrying lunch box to school was unknown and school bags and baskets were not heard of.  Early schooling was with a slate and chalk-piece.  Local language and arithmetic were the basic subjects taught at schools.  Teacher was a God for the students and disciplining the students by beating with sticks was an accepted norm in society.  In fact, parents would meet the teacher and tell him to take care of their ward, meaning an additional dose of reprimanding and beating. A student complaining of beating by a teacher at school was assured of another generous installment at home. Home work was indeed very little as there were no books for doing it.  Fortunately for the students, slates provided a limited area for assignments. Student notebooks were indeed a luxury and many children finished their education without using even one in their life.

The contrasting events of today and the amount of preparation to receive a new born astounds us.  Inquiries about schooling facilities starts immediately after the newly-wed couple return from honeymoon.  Some, of course, may decide that they never will have kids to avoid all the resultant problems unmindful of the fact they miss the innumerable pleasures of being parents and thereafter grandparents.

I chanced upon a neatly printed and bound book recently, presented to an expectant mother by her friend.  The title of the book was "Thank heaven for little girls".  This was going to be the first book of the little girl and it was waiting for her even before her arrival.
  • The book - "My baby book" - starts with details about the mommy and daddy of the baby and their history since their birth.
  • Then there is provision to record the family trees of the mother and father, going up to the arriving baby's great grand parents on either side.
  • Details of the arriving baby's initial details follow, including the expected date and actual date of arrival.
  • It chronicles the first reactions of the would be parents and the many preparations made by the parents for receiving their baby.
  • it records the guests present at the "Baby shower" function and the gifts they presented.  (Do not go to a "Baby shower"function without a gift.  Otherwise it will be "NIL" against your name!).
  • Then there is a page for recording the details of the "day before"and all the excitement that it brings to those who were there to "see my arrival".
  • The next page puts on record the actual arrival and incidental details including the name, length, weight, color and what people thought "what I looked like".
  • The child's birth certificate and tiny prints, hand prints and foot prints, are imprinted thereafter on the soft page that follows.
  • Headlines of World news, National news, Local news on the day the baby was born is written down on the next page.
  • Two pages are reserved for the "homecoming" and those who waited at the home to receive the baby with the gifts they brought with them.
  • The world around the baby with even the price of a measure of milk, diaper, gas, car, computer, and even babysitting rates can be noted down in different pages.
  • After immunity chart for mentioning dates of various injections and inoculations, growth ingredients are put on record month after month.
  • The recordings continue till first day at school after which other books take over!
If you look at it physically, it is just a book or just another book.  If you view it with feelings, well, it is much more.  It is a chronicle of beginning of a new life and nature's continuity process.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Doctor-Father's advice to a Doctor-Son

The flight from Bangalore to Frankfurt was delayed by one hour due to late arrival of the plane from Frankfurt on the previous leg.  The wait was rather boring and such delays at the beginning of the journey have the effect of making one feel tired even before the journey starts.  Once inside the magnificent Boeing 747-800, the atmosphere was altogether different.  The mind was working on a different plane now and started wondering how such a big metal bird floats in the air at speeds in excess of 600 miles an hour carrying over 400 passengers and crew.  The redesigned and highly efficient new aircraft, introduced only last year by Lufthansa between Bangalore and Frankfurt, took off with relatively less noise level and started doing its job unmindful of other things.  Boeing claims that this aircraft is more than 10 percent lighter per seat and consumes 11 percent less fuel per passenger than its nearest competitor Airbus A380.  This translates to a trip cost reduction of 21 percent in terms of seat-mile. The journey is enjoyable due to the perception of lighter per seat weight even for those passengers whose own weight has not come down despite several crash weight reduction programs!

Persons sitting by our side on long haul flights generally tend to sleep off and avoid conversation with strangers.  But once drawn to talking we can find some very interesting personalities among them.  Towards the end of the flight I succeeded in drawing the person sitting next to me into a conversation, though I suspect that he will be claiming that he succeeded in drawing me out of my shell.  Either way, it was an enjoyable two hours of talk and the fact that he was a dozen years older did not come in the way of our discussions.

He turned out to be a Doctor from South India, a Pediatrician, who moved to USA in the late 1960s.  His father was also a Doctor and was instrumental in grooming him in his earlier years of practicing medicine.  He shared with me some of the learning points he inherited from his father in those formative years of his professional life.  The knowledge he thus gained from his father was very interesting and absorbing.  Before we parted at Frankfurt I sought his permission to use those fine learning points wherever I found fit.  He was very understanding and encouraging and gladly permitted me to dos so.

The young doctor reached USA and wrote his first letter to his father about his status and life in the new land.  Writing a letter was the best form of communication in those years as telephone was difficult and electronic communication was nearly non-existent.  Within a few days he received a letter from his father listing out the grammatical  mistakes in the letter and asking him to rewrite the contents after rectifying the errors!  This gives an idea about the rigor adopted by the father in grooming the young doctor.  Some of the interesting points he recalled are summarized below:
  •  Look like a Doctor, feel like a Doctor and behave like a Doctor.  That will make you feel confident and earn respect in the community you serve.
  • Have a Stethoscope around your neck. (More required in those days).  It makes others recognize you as a doctor!
  • Never visit a patient with an unshaven face or with a baseball cap.  Remember you are visiting a patient or a patient is visiting you.  You should not look like a patient yourself.
  • Have eye-contact with the patients but do not make it excessive as it may make them uncomfortable.
  • Always sit on par with the patient, neither above nor below his seat level.  You are neither superior or inferior to him.  Treat the patient as a equal human being.
  • Treat the mind of the patient.  It automatically opens up treatment of the ailing body.
  • When the patient is talking keep your mouth shut.  Do not interrupt. Let him/her unload whatever he/she has to say.  Some part of it may be vital for the course adopted for treatment.
  • When the patient is about leave ask him/her whether he/she has anything else to say.  Vital information may come out in such moments that may help during treatment. 
  • Understand the patient.  That enables you to understand the disease.
  • Do not use medical jargon and terms while talking to a patient.  Use simple language which they understand.  The patient is interested in getting healed and not in your knowledge as a doctor.
  • If the patient starts talking about medical jargon and terms, then you raise the level of your interaction. Let him know you are the boss in your field.
  • Treat the patient first for the problem he has come with.  Do not discuss and treat some other ailment you may diagnose in him/her. That can follow later. 
  • Never go to the room of a woman patient without knocking.  Even after knocking, never enter the room of a woman patient without a woman nurse or assistant.  That may save a lot of troubles later on.
  • Do not hesitate to levy a reasonable fee.  Remember you have to make a living by practicing medicine.  Be considerate to financially weaker patients.
  • Finally, relieve the pain and relieve the purse.  The patient should feel the first, but not the latter. 
Many of these words of wisdom are equally applicable for other professions as well.  Teachers and trainers for example.


Just as we were parting at Frankfurt, the doctor mentioned about a woman athlete who had a long and distinguished career and won many laurels and prizes in competitive games.  She developed pain in the joints and went to a orthopedic surgeon.  The doctor advised her that she needs new joints to replace worn out ones.  "No doctor, I am convinced that I do not need new joints", she shot back.  "All I need is a new doctor!", she said!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

All packets are intact!

Traveling has its share of pleasures and pains.  Packing and unpacking are indeed an integral part of the traveling saga.  Packing and unpacking woes leaves their scars on the trips and sometimes even beyond them. Missing suitcases, rerouted or late arriving baggage, broken handles, torn bags are all part of the traveler's worries.  Broken bottles, leaking creams and cracked souvenirs leave indelible marks on materials as well on the mind.  The relief one experiences when things are in order after unpacking at destination is sometimes seen to be believed.  This is all the more true when the journey is through three or four long flights and crossing many countries and airports.

There are funny instances too.  At the baggage receiving areas in many international airports warning signs are displayed: "Beware of similar looking baggage!".  Despite this warning passengers sometimes take out the wrong suitcases and realise this only after opening them at their hotels or homes.  When they make a quick trip back to the airport, they find another passenger confronted with a similar problem.  If it is a boy and girl suitcase swap, it may result in a marriage in true "Bollywood" style.  Afterwards they need not worry since it will be common suitcases thereafter.  Of course, they may not worry about suitcases at all as there would be many more things to worry about.

Recently I had to help pack a close relative's luggage items for a long trip to a far away land.  I was cautioned not to open a carton box and that it should go in the suitcase as it is.  Instructions were faithfully carried out and the carton box was loaded along with other items, many of them being glass ones.  When the phone call came after the person reached destination, the first thing I heard was that all the items were safe and just as they were before they were packed.  "All packets are intact!" was the first communication.  Other details of the journey followed only thereafter.

The problems involved in moving (shifting to a different house) is no different.  First is the problem of sorting out the existing items at home.  Even bigger problem is the one of discarding useless items.  In fact, the existence of some of the items at home dawns on us only when we see them at the time of shifting!  Life has been going on for several years without their use and yet it is difficult to discard them.  They are again packed and carefully taken to the new house only to keep them in the attic till the next move is made.  Even with all the care taken in packing and moving the items, there are always some parts broken which even the best "Fevicol" cannot bind.  This loss of goods due to breakage is universally accepted and many companies give a fixed or variable allowance called "breakage allowance" when employees move on transfer.

Modern living has introduced the services of "Packing and transporting agents" who take care of all the packing, transporting and unpacking at destination.  Some of them advertise that they are the "Second best packers" meaning that the Lord is the best packer ever in business.  They even exhibit a Pomegranate or Jack-fruit in their advertisements as a tribute to the best packer in business.  When shifting work is entrusted to these second best teams, one need not worry about shifting except the big bill and broken items.  They are not responsible for breakages as it is a natural by-product of shifting.

A close friend met with an accident and was admitted to a hospital for treating a fracture.  When I met him at  the hospital, his first request was to move the wrecked car to the garage of his house.  Not being familiar with automobiles I was at a loss to meet this request.  The car had been moved by the Police from the accident spot to the yard in front of the police station.  If the car was not moved immediately, there was the danger of many parts missing in a few days.  Anyone who has seen vehicles dumped in front of a police station knows this.  I suddenly remembered an advertisement by a "Packers and Movers" company that claimed "We move anything, anywhere, anytime".  When I called the company over phone, the person receiving the call said they do not do this kind of work.  I asked him as to why they claimed to move anything, anywhere, anytime if they could not move a wrecked car from police station to a garage.  The person at the other end said that he did not know about it and would ask his father who was the owner of the business.  I left my telephone number to call me back.  The call was returned in the evening and they agreed to do the job.  The father-son duo came in their Jeep and towed the wrecked car from the police station to the garage at the friend's house.  "I am not charging you anything, Sir.  Thank you for reading our advertisement and reminding us of its value", said he senior man.

While thinking of packing and forwarding, an old accountancy joke comes to mind.  Managing Director of a company was in the habit of charging all personal expenses also to the company's account.  His accountant being a paid employee had no alternative but to comply with the given instructions.  When the Managing Director's mother died, MD instructed that all the funeral expenses should also be charged to the company's account.  The Accountant queried as to what "Head of Account" he should debit the expenses.  MD thought for a while and nonchalantly replied - "Packing and Forwarding expenses".  Some wonderful accounting that was!