Tag Archives: feminism

“If I don’t set an example, who will?”

photo-23-02-17-18-56-00“If I don’t set an example, who will?”
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
One fine late morning, a phone call woke me up. “Hullo?” I used the trained professional cautious voice that does not encourage further conversation, hoping to not let go of the sleep stage.
“Good Morning. I am Rashmi Shukla, Commissioner of police, Pune. May I speak to Dr. Rajas Deshpande?” the lady on the other side said.
My heart missed one middleclass heartbeat and performed five higher class somersaults. Sleep ran away like a signal jumping two wheeler pursued by a traffic cop.
“Yes mam, speaking” I sat up in bed.
“I want to show my aunt to you. When can I get an appointment for her?”
This was unusual.
Usually most bigwigs just walk in without any warning and want to be seen immediately. Some soft-threaten an appointment via their secretary. Some come with the hospital owners, some hassle the boss to get the doctor rush for them whenever they want. There even are netas and officers (not only police) who ask doctors to “hurry up” with the patient in the chamber and see them first. If you make them wait, your boss usually would remind you many unpleasant things in chaste English.
So, about this call, I felt very respectful.
“Anytime you want mam. What time is convenient for you?”
“You say doctor, you people are always so busy. I will arrange my schedule accordingly”.
“4 PM today?” I asked
“Ok. We will be there” she said.
At sharp 4 she came with her aunt and waited patiently for their turn. Inside the chamber she behaved like a common citizen, and politely narrated the details of her aunt. She listened to the instructions and prescription details, and asked a few questions. She made me laugh with some puns too. Then she thanked me and left. We kept on reading about many new initiatives and improvements she implemented in Pune.
When she followed up today, again with similar polite call for appointment and then a punctual visit, I told her how admirable and respectable her politeness and etiquette was, and how rare it has become among the highly placed.
She smiled: “Doc, If I don’t set an example, who will?”.
Huge Respect, Commissioner!
May all police and government officers be like you!
Then when I requested her permission to write this and also for a a pic, she said “If you don’t smile in the photo, I am going to have you arrested immediately”.
Thank you, Mrs. Rashmi Shuklaji, Commissioner of Police, Pune, for making a common doctor like me feel great again about my choice of this profession!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

The Official Daily Murders In India

The Official Daily Murders In India
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
She was breathing heavily. Pale and weak, she could barely speak. The ghoonghat covered her head, but her single eye that could be seen had given up hope. She looked at me just as she would have looked at God, begging to save her, or at devil, begging to end it all.
20, pregnant for the third time, in her eighth month, she was on the verge of death.
Her in-laws and two daughters accompanied her. “She has always been weak. We ask her to eat well, but she does not like to eat at all. You fire her, Doctorsahab. Ask her to eat well. How else will the child get food? This is her third child”. Somehow, the emotional words of her mother in law appeared as dry as the moving appeals of a political leader.
“She will need admission. She has very less blood (haemoglobin) remaining, she may require blood transfusion. Where is her husband?” I enquired.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“He has gone for work. He said he will talk to you on phone”.
I asked them to call her husband immediately. She was admitted. They could not arrange blood, she was transfused enough to settle her heart rate and blood pressure. The obstetrician saw her simultaneously, and took over.
Her husband had a guilty expression, but did not talk. The mother in law took charge. “What can we do, doctorsahab? He has to go to work. We try our best to treat her well, but she is very slow. She was probably a laadli (excessively beloved) at her maika (parent’s home), now she cannot work. She does not even eat well. Who will do the work at home? My son married her with the normal expectation: that someone will take care of his home and parents, and give him a son. Now if she cannot do it because she cannot work or does not eat, what is his fault?”
“Does that allow him to kill her, his wish to have a child?” I asked her.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Millions of Indian girls, married too early and too deficient already, are forced through pregnancy after pregnancy for their socially expected “duty” of producing a son. Poor diet, low levels of iron and other essential vitamins, minerals and proteins push their health to the verge of extreme torture: pain, weakness, breathlessness and many risks to health and life. Such a health status of the mother also badly affects the child, and many children are born with defects that are rarely noticed until they grow up.
This shameful phenomenon is seen at all levels of financial status, literacy, or location. It takes less than five thousand rupees to correct the maternal nutritional status and maintain it throughout pregnancy. Many cheap and healthy diets are recommended. But the love and care for a woman that must come from the in-laws is lacking in most cases, and the society that is busy with black and white money, patriotism and other higher causes in life, does not have time to correct black mind sets: of owning the health and life of a woman.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Thousands of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, Medical Officers, Interns, Resident Doctors take it upon themselves to fight with this situation desperately: spending their own money, time and effort, in an ocean of apathy called social attitudes and administration failures. Hundreds of private practitioners and hospitals make available free treatments, counselling, investigations, consultations and other help for the pregnant women who cannot afford it all. All this is never acknowledged. Every OBGYN practicing in India, especially in rural India deserves highest civilian awards for doing far beyond their assigned duties. Instead, they are tortured by one-sided laws that presume everyone guilty of mal-intention.
There are many laws that the society can use against doctors. The Supreme court can appoint any number of judges on any big financial or other institutes and seal their accounts, suspend them, even call for midnight hearings. The government can meet overnight for special issues. But nobody has time to stop the “forced motherhood on deficient women of India” that causes thousands of deaths every year. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Do we have guts to make a law to make “Physical Fitness” of a woman a compulsory criteria before she becomes pregnant? Can the OBGYN society or IMA float a request for such a law, where it would be possible to punish the husband / in-laws for enforcing pregnancy upon a weak woman? © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
What do you call such a society that kills starving women and their children by expectation?
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

Made In Heaven

jadhavs

If I ask him about HIS health complaints, he points at her and says “Ask her, I don’t know”.

Mr. Hanuman Jadhav brings his wife Mrs. Laxmibai Jadhav regularly for follow ups, keeps all her records filed date-wise, brings all the medicines and asks me to do the best for her, adding “Don’t worry about the expenses, we can buy for her any medicine you want”. He has no source of earning, but his children provide for them.

“She has looked after me, my home and grown up my kids. I am nothing without her” says this retired foreman of an electric company. He spent his life roaming all over Maharashtra with his family, wherever the govt. transferred him. His old wrist watch and simple clothes reveal his humble state of life’s affairs. He is minimally educated, does not know the words “Culture” or “Gentleman”, but is better cultured and more of a Gentleman than most who know those words!

He patiently listens without interrupting till she finishes all her questions. He does not behave as if he is her ‘Master’. Then at the end she asks (rather orders) me to examine him. If I ask him about his complaints, he points at her and says “Ask her, I don’t know”. Then she blushes and lists all his complaints, and he usually agrees. The only argument they have is about the other one “Not eating well enough”.

In the end she always says “My illness is not important. He must stay healthy at all costs. He has worked hard to keep us all well”. As they leave, she does not forget to remind me that I am like a son for them.

They do not ever complain about each other, not even as a joke with hidden shades of truth!

We rarely see this respect and equality for one’s own spouse, even among the best educated. These two have not read any literature, nor seen any movies about women’s lib. Since the last five years that I know them, they have been one outstanding example of genuine, heavenly love only dreamt by those in the ambition industry. Even the most educated and elite seldom treat their spouses as equal.

These two are still so shy, they urged that I stand between them for the pic!
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

A Policeman’s Tears

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“She was found unconscious and naked lying on the road. The baby was near her, moving when we found her, now she also looks unconscious” said the police constable. “Actually I had my civil dress in my jeep, I covered both with my clothes and got them here. Most likely an orphan roadside beggar”.

It was early morning, I had gone to the casualty for a call as a medicine resident, and was chatting with the CMO when this police constable had rushed in the mother and the baby, probably less than a year old. He and his colleague completed the formalities and left. The CMO was alone, so I stayed on to assist.

The lady had high grade fever and some bruises all over her body, only one on the thigh deep enough that it bled. She also had a contusion upon the head. Needless to say, unclean and unkempt, visibly quite weak and poorly fed body. There was a traditional tattoo on her forearm that said “Seeta” in distorted devnagari script. The baby was dehydrated and had fever too, with only minor contusions.

“Sending her to female ward, and the baby to paediatric” said the CMO. We completed the police information and Medicolegal form, the nurses had started the IV line for the lady. I accompanied the baby to the pediatric ward, handed her over to the resident doctor friend on duty and went to the female ward to attend the other admissions. Basic medicines for fever and head injury were started for Seeta. There was no CT scan facility in the hospital. Blood tests were sent.

In absence of relatives, it’s the interns, resident doctors and nurses who attend to the necessities of such patients. Administration mocks everyone sympathetic and compassionate to such patients, be it a government, private or corporate set up. My professor advised some more blood tests. Some tests were not available in the govt. hospital, we had to send them outside. As we had just received the stipend, money was not a big problem.

Next evening I went to the pediatric ward to find out what was happening with the baby.
“She has had convulsions”, the resident colleague told me. We have loaded her with anticonvulsants, but she still has fever. Dr. Jain madam (new lecturer in paediatrics) has advised lumbar puncture, but there’s the consent problem”.
I went to talk to the lecturer, she was all insulting. “Don’t teach me what to do. We will send a request to the dean, and if he allows, then the resident will do the lumbar puncture” she said, “By the way, what’s your interest in this baby? Why don’t you mind your own business? I have heard about you.. you are in the student’s union na? Don’t throw your weight around me.” She said.

The dean consented to our request, and a lumbar puncture was done. The baby had probable tuberculous meningoencephalitis (infection of the brain and its coverings). Antituberculous medicines were started.

The comments of the pediatric lecturer made me extremely angry. Most of her resident doctors hated her attitude too. Those remarks soon spread and various sick, exaggerated and vulgar jokes about me caring for that orphan baby made rounds among my colleagues. But one good thing about wanting to do good is the shameless pride and courage that comes ingrained with it.

My colleague Dr. Madhu stood by me. She often reminded me: “There are five percent good people in the world, and 95 percent bad, Einstein has said, but it is the five percent good who take the world forward, they represent human race”. That has always pumped me up against all the mockery that I ever faced for being “too sensitive and compassionate to be sane”.

The best support for the poor and helpless always comes from the poor and helpless. The pompous, actionless “blah blah” of advising others to be more kind and compassionate is usually the trademark of those who themselves rarely help anyone. The mamas and mausis (wardboys and helpers) of the ward came together to attend Seeta during their duty.

The pediatric resident told us on the third day that the baby’s health had gone bad, and she was unlikely to survive. Dr. Madhu stopped smiling. “At least can we shift the baby near her mom?” we discussed. It was of course not possible.

Dr. Oak (real name), one of our ophthalmology genius professors, learnt about this. He came over and told us in his royal tones, to tap him anytime for any help. He also left some money with us.

On the fourth day, the lady started having convulsions too. We ran around, trying to arrange whatever the professor suggested. She was gradually sinking. Tuberculosis neglected and untreated is one of the most cruel diseases. It takes over ten days for the action of Tb medicines to kick in.

On the fifth day, the baby passed away in the morning, and the lady shortly after. That coincidence was less tragic than their trolleys being rolled into the mortuary together.

“What happens now?” we asked the mortuary in charge.
“They will be cremated as orphan, unclaimed bodies after the post mortem” he told.

In a world of billions, ruled by religious, powerful and rich, a young mother and a baby girl would be cremated as orphans! We told the mortuary assistant to please keep us posted, and came out. Of course we could not sleep.

Next day we took special permission and went to attend their cremation.
On the way, we bought some flowers, a tiny dress for the girl and a saree for her mom, probably the first new clothes ever for either of them. Dr. Madhu had already brought a few bangles, a necklace and two bindis with her.

Dr. Madhu was sobbing as we returned. The rowdy looking policeman with us also wiped his eyes. He dropped us back to the medical college in his jeep.

He said in a heavy voice as we parted:
“Doctor, we see all the worst things in the society. We meet criminals day and night. But when such young girls and babies die, I feel like shooting everyone who didn’t come out to help them. People just talk, nobody helps. God bless you. You have what it takes to be a doctor. Don’t ever change.”

© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

P.S.
Years later, I read about a divine human being from Chennai, one Mr. S Sreedhar, who collects unclaimed dead bodies from various hospitals, and performs decent and respectful last rites for them. Planning to meet and touch his feet one day.
Please share unedited.

“Housewife, or Outwife?”

“Housewife, or Outwife?”
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Isn’t your wife working? She must not waste her education.. She has such good opportunity..” he asked.
“Yes, she is planning to, but after the baby is at least three months old. We have taken alternate leaves. What about your wife?” I asked. I knew his wife was a qualified postgraduate doctor.
“Oh she wants to stay at home and look after the kids. There is no one else at our home to take care of the kids. My mom has knee pain. She feels that once the kids grow up to 10 years, then my wife should join duty. I said okay, anyways I am earning enough!” he replied.
“Then why did you ask about the waste of my wife’s education?” I thought, but didn’t ask. I was used to these questions.

Although a single now, I was once married. My parents had gracefully lived like friends till my father passed away, so there always was a culture of true equality without any “culturally sweetened” excuses at our home. “If at all there has to be a preference, and you two disagree, prefer what your wife wants” my father always insisted. So naturally she studied and worked as she wanted, made her choices. There were no discussions about superiority, neither any hidden rules of dominance at our place. This has a compromise: when both are equal, and there is no “dominance”, fights/ arguments over differences increase. Still this was any day better than a traditionally hidden slavery system.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

But there were these friends, relatives and strangers, who kept on continuing the evergreen Indian business of “frankly poking their noses” in our affairs. From advice about what to eat to when to have children, they all had individualised suggestions for us, notwithstanding the knowledge that we were both qualified doctors!

One of my uncles was famous for spending his whole life at home before and after work reclining in a sofa. His day started with shifting himself from his bed to the sofa, ordering his wife to ‘paste his brush’, make tea, heat up water for his bath, keep his towel in the bathroom (all this while he read newspapers or watched TV), keep his office clothes ready, make his favourite dishes for breakfast, tiffin and dinner every day, and telling her and everyone else how much he loved her. Although she was an art graduate and sung well, she didn’t get any time for herself beyond his chores and raising the four kids. As aunty herself smilingly said she enjoyed doing all this, other working women in the family kept on speaking about her in ‘belittling’ words, of her being lucky to be ‘just a housewife’. Every other day, uncle’s friends came home for dinner / drinks / card games etc., and aunty kept serving their culinary wishes.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

This very uncle was once chatting with me at a marriage ceremony. My grandma sent some tea with my wife to the room where I sat with this uncle and many guests, most strangers. As she handed over the tea to me, my uncle, in a ‘classified diplomatic high volume” voice, started: “Rajas, she is a doctor. She is equally educated as you. How can you ask her to make tea for you and bring it? Is she your slave? You must treat her as your equal”. As the whole room and over 40 eyes stared derogatory at me, I expected her to reply, but someone called her and she left.

I was reluctant, but one must never give up the wars for dignity.
“Why should she be a slave even if she is less educated or even uneducated?” I asked him. “Do you mean to say that a differently educated woman is doomed to be a slave? Why must your wife cook for you? Why must she be responsible for everything from your clothes to cleaning of the house to raising the kids, while you order her like a personal assistant? I have never even seen you getting a glass of water for yourself” I retorted. The ‘seniors’ in the room interfered, reminding me that this was not the way to ‘answer back’ an uncle.

Years passed by. We divorced. Kids with me, and an ever demanding career of a specialist doctor, I realised further more how difficult it is to attend to the house chores alone. From handling groceries, maids to schooling, how insufficient it is to have only two hands and only 24 hours. God helped, and I have survived.

This caused one definite change in my practice. While asking women the history, we were trained to ask “Are you working or not”? (and the usual answer used to be “No, I don’t work, I’m just a housewife”). Now I ask “Do you work only at home or also outside?” . Because I know the housewife works far more than the workwife, but without any remuneration or respect. The job of successfully growing up children is any day over and above any other!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

“Someone has to look after the family. I can earn and provide as much as she wants. I give her whatever she wants. She has to choose a career with lesser responsibility, so someone is available for kids. She loves taking care of me and the children. This is our tradition, our culture. Men hunt, women nest”. There are so many sweet excuses of murdering a woman’s career! Well what most men hunt are women’s dreams and where most women nest are prisons with golden walls. The immense clever deceptive wordplay that goes into hiding the simple truth “I think women should look after home and live a secondary life while men have a free will” is amazingly accepted by even the best talented men in our society!

Be it doctors or any other profession, a “lesser career” for a woman is taken for granted by those who claim to love her.

“She should be happy about it: she has to just sit at home and enjoy, while I do all the hard work” said the national level director of a telecom project.

The second side: “I like doing it for my family” some women say, and if they do, how perfect it must feel!© Dr. Rajas Deshpande

It is not my business what others decide among themselves. But when people who “encage” their wives in the confines of a home start talking diplomatically about gender equality or why other people’s beautiful and able wives must start working etc., when they flirt with their officemates / colleagues while expecting wifey dear to keep dinner ready when they “return tired”, I cannot stop reacting without a sizzle in my words.

There are no easy answers for the ritualistic mindsets though.

One of my patients suffered with a very bad form of Parkinsonism, and was bed-bound for over five years. His perfectly healthy wife once broke down. “I have taken care of this man since the first day of our marriage, done everything he wanted. He was always busy, day and even many a night, outside the house, I have always been lonely all through so many years. I used to pray to God that I get some good time with him. The thought of making any friends, some other man never touched me. But he never talked to me about love. Never realised I was burning inside for true friendship with him. Now he is home all the time and wants me never to leave his bedside. But now I am tired. Now I clean him, feed him and just think: what had I done wrong to deserve this kind of a punishment?”.
When he passed away, we heard two reactions: “He is now relieved of his pain” and “She is now relieved of having to take his care”. What no one spoke was about the loveless, friendless 50 years of a woman’s life.

“You are so brilliant, hard working and yes, beautiful ,” said a senior professor, to a bombesque colleague friend of mine, gently patting upon her back, “you must make a great career.. Do let me know if you have any problems, I have many connections”. “Yes, Sir, may I ask what madam (your wife) does? Is she a doctor too?” asked my friend. “No, she stopped after MBBS. We married early, you see!” he replied.

Later that evening, as we sat at Nariman Point watching the sea, I asked her opinion about what the professor had said.
The breezes were noisy, and so was the sea, but the single word that she used for him made a hundred red faces turn towards us.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande