By Palanisamy Vijayanand
You can’t even cross a river without having to pay a toll — Archilochos, Seventh Century BC
One just hates them in silence. Moreover, not much has changed in over two-and-a-half millennia. It felt as though there was a toll gate at every kilometre mark on the way to Kurnool. They were coming thick and fast, like birthdays. Too many could even kill. If only the highway motels – that little cocoons of comfort – resembled gulags, it would have given the impression of Stalinism. In fact, every toll gate triggered a blitz of bizarre associations throughout the mind. We tried to distract ourselves with friendly banter, for we had to necessarily and inevitably move past the confines of such irrational fury. Crossing the Tungabhadra inched us closer to the middle-ground where both anger and peace could reside. Entering Kurnool – the gateway to Rayalaseema – completed the reconciliation process where fury gave way to peace.
The senior colleague, who we were hoping to meet, was already there to welcome us when we arrived at Kurnool Medical College. ‘I’m glad that you are here,’ he said with a steady voice and a strong hand-shake, adding ‘wouldn’t want to miss this for anything. I hope the travel wasn’t too much trouble.’ Hope indeed. The ongoing chemotherapy had wreaked havoc in his life – muscle pains, joint aches, tingling sensations in his limbs, malaise – the never-ending list was exhausting him. ‘But, the worst is insomnia, I tell you,’ he observed. The chemotherapy was promising. He was getting through the vicissitudes of therapy and the door to cure was
visible, but to him it felt like the rebel cells were bumped off one after the other. Slowly. Gently. It had been a long ordeal. Later, sharing his personal experiences as the chairperson for the talk on Cancer Pain, he touched on the role of optimism, faith, hope… Attributes which had given him the courage to confront his circumstances and the capacity to surmount them. Attributes, as people of science, we routinely fail to recognise as comforting.
The scorching heat of the summer was taxing. Kurnool, that Sunday, was the hottest place in India. It was 42°C in the shade. ‘It is with words as with sunbeams – the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn,’ the poet laureate Robert Southey famously remarked. We were ready with the up-to-the-point and crisp lectures to kick start the proceedings. The flow was good – the product of preparation, routine, and persistent effort. The probing, the teasing out of opinions, and the search for reasons and justifications by the chairpersons were always delightful, frequently humorous but never patronizing. ‘Knowledge of the body was
important, so is knowledge of the mind when persistent pain is the culprit,’ – they opined. ‘This knowledge could be mutually enlightening and empowering, as the ultimate aim of both is to dissipate suffering,’ – they added. One would have to search in vain for a precious and original counterpoint to this argument. The punch-line was reserved for later, when the discussion ventured into spirituality and pain – ‘adopting a religion is optional, but becoming a better human being is essential.’ Very true, it was agreed. The tunnel at Kurnool fort might not have light at the end of it, but our programme sure had one. Of his time at Oxford, Southey was later to say ‘All I learnt was a little swimming… and a little boating.’ We hoped that the post-graduates at Kurnool learnt a bit more than that.
The District Collector was the chief guest for the brief inaugural ceremony – the first contact with officialdom and bureaucracy for our fledgling programme. The Superintendent of the hospital, a great patron of educational activities, had gone the whole hog to make it a successful event. The venue itself had an austere charm to it. The colours of the pageant were of all radiance and hue. There were orthopaedic surgeons, neuro surgeons and general surgeons who chipped in with their very original thoughts and ideas, inspiring quiet contemplation. ‘We do not know until the shell breaks what kind of egg we have been sitting on,’ remarked the Nobel winning poet TS Eliot. The Traveling Pain School, with this event at Kurnool, ceased being an ordinary, decent egg. We felt that it had hatched, and the birds had already learned to fly. There are now moves underway to set up the first multi-disciplinary pain clinic in a government hospital. The post-graduates were urged to become active members of the Indian Society for Study of Pain, so they could keep in touch with and implement evidence-based practices. The under-graduates, this year, will have a half-day teaching on effective management of pain. A cadaveric bio-skills workshop has been planned for later this year. Kurnool had been the first capital of Andhra Pradesh state. With this event, it proved it still had its leadership qualities intact. We left Kurnool with the quiet satisfaction that the destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.
Banner image courtesy: Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Event sponsored by Modi-Mundipharma and Sparsha Pharma