If you have a problem, fix it. But train yourself not to worry, worry fixes nothing. - Ernest Hemingway

Thursday, 17 September 2009

A tale of two cities

… But not of Paris and London; this tale is about Hyderabad and ….

It was a lovely evening at Deepanwita and Pinaki’s flat in Hyderabad. The time was March/April in 2006, shortly before the West Bengal state assembly elections that year. Besides the hosts, there were two of us: one of their friends, who shall bear the name Alapon here, and me.

At the dining table, we had an animated discussion about the coming elections. There was much excitement: politics can be as intoxicating as any alcoholic beverage, particularly for Bongs. And Alapon, a thin, almost emaciated man in his fifties, was an interesting company. It was past midnight when Pinaki and I saw off Alapon as he took off on his rickety scooter, and retired to our respective homes.

At 4.30 next morning, Pinaki received a phone call from another city. It was a common friend of theirs from Bangalore: Alapon had met with an accident on his way home. A police patrol van had discovered a bleeding unconscious man and his battered scooter, and admitted him to the nearest hospital, Yashoda Hospital in Alexander Road, Secunderabad. The first phone number on Alapon’s cell phone was that of the friend in Bangalore; the police had called him up.

At 5 AM, a receptionist at Yashoda Hospital in Alexander Road informed Pinaki that as they did not have the facilities to treat head injury, they had transferred the patient to the Somajiguda unit of the same hospital.

And the Somajiguda hospital there did these things. The doctor in charge of emergencies arranged for a CT scan as soon as the patient was brought in. He noticed indications of brain damage on the scanned images and the hospital called up a senior neuro-surgeon – I think his name was Dr. Ramamoorthy – from his sleep. Dr. Ramamoorthy examined Alapon at 4.30 in the morning and the hospital was preparing to conduct an emergency surgery when Pinaki and other friends arrived on the scene.

Alapon was saved, thanks to some alert policemen and an unbelievably wonderful hospital.

But why do I recall the story after three years?

One evening in August 2009, a young woman went to a well-known private hospital in Kolkata with a splitting headache. The doctors got a CT scan done at about 8 in the same evening. They found something wrong and got her admitted. They told her husband that the CT images would be examined by a specialist the next morning.

A neurologist saw the images at 11 next morning and she was taken for surgery immediately. There was further haemorrhage while the surgery was being conducted; she survived, narrowly.

What was it that made a private hospital in Hyderabad do everything that could be done for an unknown patient even when they did not know who would foot the bill? And what is it that makes a Kolkata hospital wait for 15 long, potentially killing hours after a scan indicates serious issues? Was anyone taken to task for this criminal negligence? I know not.

And this is not one of the much maligned government hospitals of the city. It is supposed to be one of the best, and certainly one of the costliest. Moreover, this hospital has a tie-up with a well-known Chennai based hospital, where many patients from Kolkata go for treatment. How can an organization that runs smoothly in Chennai botch things up so horribly in Kolkata?

I know, presenting chosen examples is not is hardly the right way to prove a point. But if you ask ten persons who have dealt with hospitals in Hyderabad and ten more, who have in Kolkata, I bet you will find that my examples represent the overall scenario quite well.

After seeing numerous instances of colossal inefficiency and lack of commitment, morbid disdain for patients/clients, and crass negligence in the healthcare industry in particular and the service sector in general, I wonder if something is intrinsically wrong with Bengal. We have forgotten how to serve.

The situation must change, although no one knows how it will. Perhaps we need social reformers of the stature of Ram Mohun Roy and Swami Vivekananda, but that is not in our hands. The least that one can, and must try to do, is to do well whatever one does. Is that too tall an order?

Kolkata, 15 September 2009


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Dear Sir,
    As it always does, this post of yours is also thought-provoking.
    I agree with you that we in Bengal have probably forgotten how to serve. Or may I ask, did we ever know? I do not have the answer since I was born in the late seventies and have not seen the Bengal of the fifties or sixties. I would not like to add the period before independence since we were then under the British rule, who made us work (even if we did not want to).
    As we have earlier discussed and know that every thing in Bengal is in shambles. Education, healthcare, infrastructure...the basic necessities are all in a huge mess. Politics has crept through every where. And the only one to be blamed for all this are not the politicians but people like us. We have created this mess and it is upon us to clean it. We have turned a blind eye (and still do) to all that was going wrong and have allowed it to reach such menacing proportions. You have very rightly said that if we can simply do what we are supposed to do, we should be much better. But will it be sufficient? I am not convinced. Will it not be 'too little'? I think the rot is too deep. It would take much more to heal an ailment such as this, if at all it can be.



  3. I think you have a very valid point here, I have heard of numerous negligences in the calcutta hospitals, and have heard of so many encoraging incidents in semi govt hospis like vellore med college..i may not know what it is that makes for these discrepeancies, but they sure exist, in fact there are more bengali patients to be seen going out of calcutta for treatment, inspite of there being , and I still believe that, very good doctors in calcutta.

  4. Hi Santanu

    I am reacting because this is your blog, otherwise I am now wary of writing anything about Kolkata in a public cyberspace and you know why.
    While in Kolkata I had an executive check-up at a private hospital called "Medinova" near Desapriya park.The previuos year I had a similar check up at a Bombay hospital. The difference between the two was so glaring I thought I should mention it here. At Bombay they immediately provide you with a gown and right from there everything moves like clockwork with a nurse accompanying you from stage to stage without any delay whatsoever. At Medinova, of course there was no gown but that is not important. After each test we had to go and remind somebody for calling us to the next stage. But to be fair to them they have the same laccadaisical approach even when it comes to collecting the payment. The bill came nearly after two months.

  5. Thank you all.

    Gopes, Pl do write whatever you think you should, at least in this space. I will always look forward to your comments. What you have written about has been experienced by everyone in Kolkata. "Lackadaisical" is a word that fits well with most of us, ie, the Indian Bengali middle class. If we have to do something about it, we must recognize the fact first.

    Sujata, Thanks for your comments. No one knows why it is so. This short article is part of a personal process to understand why. I will look forward to inputs from people like you.

    Anirban, Good to see your comments after some time. You have made three important points: 1. Did we ever know how to serve? 2. Since independence, we, Bengalis nurtured a destructive brand of politics for fifty years or so, and have tolerated it for another decade. This brand of politics is not responsible for all our problems, but it has aggravated the situation greatly. 3. Just doing well what we are doing will not solve the problem, although it will certainly help.

    Let us all put our heads together and think what will. It will be a long process, Anirban. But we must find a solution.

  6. Perhaps Telugu does not have an equivalent for "Aaj hobe na" !

  7. I feel the change has to be brought about in humanity per se. I remember discussing this with a relative who happens to be a doctor in USA. What she had to say was something I completely agree with. In the US when a person is brought into the hospital the doctors and medical staff do not bother about the payment of the bills and instead rush to do whatever they can whereas in India, in Hyderabad particularly I was extremely happy with the service that Apollo Hospital rendered to us for my mother's treatment but the treatment began only after the initial payment was made. I still remember the pain that my mother was in and it was in the middle of the night that we had rushed her to the hospital where the staff did not once bother to think that from where are we going to arrange a huge sum of money and instead fit an oxygen mask on my mother and refused to start the treatment till the payment was made. After the money was paid, they no doubt took utmost care to make sure that we were comfortable but their initial behaviour represents what humanity has become today.
    We have started to equate everything to money these days be it a life, happiness or even love. Hence I feel first our thinking and outlook should change only then we can hope that the inhabitants of the human civilisation can be humane again.

  8. Shubhra, Thanks for your comments. I am sorry to hear about the ordeal your mother had to undergo. If the doctors at Yashoda Hospital behaved the same way, possibly our friend would not have survived.

    I do not know how it will change but I believe things will change and people will stop thinking in terms of money in every situation. Meanwhile, ordinary people like you and me can only try "to become the change that we wish to see".

  9. Yes, we have to be the change to bring about the change remembering Robert Frost saying:
    ‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
    I took the one less traveled by,
    And that has made all the difference’


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