Thursday, April 17, 2014

Kuckoo and the Frog

Another mango season is here.  This is the season of "The king of fruits", as those fond of mangoes call it.  Many varieties of the fruit will flood the market in a few days. Advancement in transportation has made it possible for almost all varieties of the fruit to reach all corners of the country and the world.

Another election season is also here.  We are in the midst of one of the most fiercely contested elections of our generation.  The then familiar sound decibel levels of our younger days have made way for the modern cyber fights.  Internet, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc. have been used both imaginatively as well as brutally to further the prospects of the user's favorite candidates.  This is also one of the longest election process we have ever seen.  We were used to see a new government in place before the indelible mark put on the finger on the voting day moved out of our nails.  Those who voted in the very first phase of this election may not be able to see the mark on their fingers when their votes are counted and the new government takes its stance!

As the mango season and election have converged again, comparison with a similar situation four decades ago appears quite in order.  This is all the more apt in an environment where even the rare breed of civilized leaders are losing their cool and inventing lower and lower levels of words, phrases and jargons to castigate their rivals.

Forty years ago, mango and election season had similarly converged.  I had come home for the New Year festival Ugadi, from a distant place where I had started by work-life.  There was the usual noise of the loudspeakers outside the house, doing their job as part of the election campaign. In a corner of the house my younger sister was rehearsing a verse repeatedly for her forthcoming examination.  That election scene as well as the verse she was mugging up are relevant today.

The two candidates representing the major political parties in that election, belonged to the same dominant community in the region.  They both had many things in common, except age.  There was another interesting twist to the contest; the younger candidate was a disciple of the elder statesman and was an active canvasser for his success in the earlier elections.  Politics had now drawn them apart and the realities of life manifested sharply.  The elder stalwart did not retire to make way for the disciple since there was no retirement age for politicians.  The younger aspirant could not wait any longer and had to migrate to the other party to seek his fortunes.  The other party was looking for a promising candidate and he was the logical choice for them.  Thus the circumstances pitted the veteran guru against the young follower. Though the fight was close and strong, there was no bitterness between the two.  On the day of filing nominations, the junior went to the senior to seek his blessings.  The elder statesman blessed him and said that victory is his if either of them win.  "If I win it is my victory; if you win, it is my victory too!", he said smilingly. The campaign did not have any bitterness at the personal level.

A healthy campaign was followed by brisk voting.  The younger one emerged victorious.  The Guru had probably smelt the result. He was not present at the counting center when the results were declared.  The supporters of the winner had arranged for a public meeting to celebrate the victory of their leader.   But the winner urged his followers to cancel the celebrations. Instead of proceeding to the venue of the meeting, he went directly from the counting center to the house of the defeated guru and prostrated before him.  The guru congratulated him and urged his student to go ahead with the meeting as it was his duty to thank all those who worked for his victory. "There are no victors or vanquished after a democratic election", he declared and said the baton has passed on as per the wish of the people. The public meeting went on thereafter, but was a low key affair.

Now back to the verse my sister was busy mugging up.  It was about the Kuckoo and the Frog:

पक्वं चूतफलं भुक्त्वा गर्वं नायाति कोकिलः|  पीत्वा कर्दम पानीयं भेकः रट रटायते ||       

Pakvam chootaphalam bhuktvaa garvam naayati kokilaha, 
Peetvaa kardama paneeyam bhekaha ratarataayate!     

The Kuckoo bird feasts on the sweet juice of ripe mangoes and yet does not shout with pride or vanity. It only exudes with a sweet voice.  The frog drinks muddy and dirty water and yet continuously makes deafening croaking sound (called ribbit), as if it has achieved something great!

This election is not about Mangoes or Kuckoo birds.  It is only, unfortunately, reminding us of the frogs and their never ending ribbit.              

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Quality of Life

What is “Quality of Life”?  It refers to the general well-being of individuals and societies.  It is often confused with “Standard of living”.  While standard of living is reckoned in the context of income and wealth, quality of life is perceived in the context of social environment, physical and mental health, opportunities for decent health care, education, employment, opportunities for achievements in life, social and cultural interactions etc.  Textbooks may give a variety of definitions for the term “Quality of Life”.  For a common man, quality of life ultimately means carrying on his life without running behind routine and mundane things. Running behind routine things cause undue physical and mental pressure and waste of time and money.  A society that treats every member of the community equally and fairly can be said to provide a good quality of life to its constituents.

Having observed the arrival of a newborn child in USA recently and how the system dealt with the various issues relating thereto, certain features were felt very striking and indicative of “Quality of Life”.  This is no value judgment or reflection on any other system and only an attempt to place the facts as they unfolded.
  • The first welcome for the new arrival was six months before the birth of the child.  As soon as the employer came to know about the arrival of the child, the expectant mother was allotted a parking place closest to the main entrance of the building.  There was no necessity for her to arrive early at the office complex for finding a parking place near the main entrance, to avoid long walks to the workplace from the parking lot.  (This facility is provided by some of the employers).
  • There was no need for an announcing the new arrival.  Mere parking of the car in the dedicated slot was enough for the colleagues to understand and congratulate her profusely.
  • The hospital gave the telephone number to be called as soon as the first signs of labor were felt.  This call would keep the system at the hospital ready for further necessary actions, before the expectant mother arrived at the hospital.
  • If the expectant mother is alone at home or there is no arrangement for taking her to the hospital, a call to the police or an emergency number would do.  The nearest police patrol car would pick her up from the house and drop at the hospital.
  • Hospitals offer birthing and parenting classes to prepare the parents to receive the baby and attend to its initial requirements.
  • Each patient is provided a room or shared room,  with all emergency medical facilities.  
  • At the time of arrival of the newborn, father of the child is allowed in the OT.  He is provided with the necessary gear and would look like any other doctor on duty.
  • Father of the child has the privilege of receiving the baby first, even before the mother!  He is offered the pleasure of cutting the placenta and initiating the first act in the growth of the child.
  • The child is not burdened with a long list of prescriptions of medicines and drugs.  The only shots given are for immunizations as per the prescribed schedule. 
  • Most employers welcome the baby with some gifts or welcome card as soon as the birth is communicated to them.
    • Saturdays are reserved for special attention to sick children at hospitals.  This is to prevent mixing of normal kids with sick ones and to avoid infections.
    • Dedicated telephone numbers are available at Hospitals for reaching incase urgent medical attention is required for the child.
    • Feeding the child by the mother is encouraged.  Supplements like formula milk are used only when necessary.
    • Parents have to fill a simple form giving details of names and address of the parents and name given to the baby, and submit to the hospital authorities.  Birth Certificate issued by the competent authority arrives in the mailbox within a week.  No need of repeated trips to the registrar’s office and no other requirement of formalities or applications. No registered mail and no need to wait for the postman.
      •  In the next two or three days, Social Security Card of the newborn arrives in the mailbox.
      • Parents can take the child to a local library or town hall and apply for a passport.  The library works till late in the evening and an appointment can be obtained for as late as 8.30 PM.  The formalities can be completed without applying for leave or going to agents to get an appointment at the passport office.  In a week’s time passport arrives in the mailbox. Again, there is no need to wait for the postman or visit the post office if the receiver is not at home during his visit.
      • Thus, within a month’s time the child has its basic documents like birth certificate, social security card and passport in place.
      • Use of child seat in cars is compulsory and safety of the child is given utmost importance.
      • A sign on the car window, “Baby on board”, is respected by all motorists and due deference is shown to the car carrying the baby.
      • Each residential area is assigned to a school district.  A child from the area goes to the designated school and there is no need for the parents to search for schools and pay hefty donations for a seat in the school.
        • School buses have distinct yellow colors and traffic regulations provide special courtesy to such vehicles.  Speed limits are strictly followed and enforced.
        • Priority in boarding of aircrafts, trains and buses is given to parents carrying small children.  This is not the courtesy of some kind-hearted human beings or at the discretion of the other passengers.  It is provided in the systems and the procedures are strictly implemented.  More importantly, nobody grumbles or interferes in their implementation.
        • As the child grows, due importance is given for physical activities, sports and games.  All schools are provided large play-fields and attached infrastructure.
        • Parents are provided certain relief in their income tax assessments for taking care of the child.  This is the government’s contribution for the welfare of the child. 

        To sum up, a newborn is a welcome addition to the society and not treated as a burden.  The above measures and practices make a new arrival a matter of happiness and joy for the parents.  Such joy is shared by the society as well.  This is indicative of an important index of “Quality of Life”, from the very beginning of a new life.