By Palanisamy Vijayanand
‘… success doesn’t lie at the end of a single highway but is sprinkled along a thousand alternative paths.’ - Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
Nellore. At close to 500km from Hyderabad, it is the farthest we have gone. When booking tickets with Indian Railways, it isn’t so much the distance as it is the time. ‘One would have no anxiety if there were no possibility whatever,’ said the legendary existential psychologist Rollo May. Being on the waiting list for two months meant that I spent anxious mornings cranking up the fortune-cookie machine that is the Indian Railways website. The rest of our team members were seasoned train travelers. Throughout the ordeal, like the Cheshire cat, they maintained an outsider status; often engaging in vexatious conversations about the booking, which annoyed and baffled me in equal parts. They possessed insight into all of Wonderland that is Indian Railways. They fully comprehended that it is Alice’s behaviour that is discordant with the rules of Wonderland. Finally, two tickets were confirmed. The rest weren’t. Some, the cat without the grin, would have to travel by road; whereas some others, the grin without the cat, would travel by train.
A travel which promised a head-in-hand time like Von Gogh’s portrait of Dr. Gatchet pleasantly turned out to be a time for reflection. A time to contemplate on the experiences which taught us that there are other options, other possibilities, and other ways of thinking and interacting. A time to meditate on the opportunities which helped amplify the small scribbled insectile notes in our mind. A time to ponder over the events which reshaped our worldviews. We started to believe in Paul Theroux’s claim that ‘…a train journey is travel; everything else—planes especially—is transfer.’ Wedged, as this CME was, between our teaching assignments at Ahmedabad (Sabarmati ashram) two weeks ago, and Wardha (Sewagram ashram) two weeks from now, there were inevitable discussions about The Mahatma and his train journeys to connect with people. The chap at the hotel reception was enthusiastic, when we checked in, for that time of the morning. His ‘Oh yes, I’ve been expecting you,’ made us feel a bit famous, but not enough to convince that our famousness would result in our homes getting converted to museums, by the politicians, when we croaked.
Nellore is feel-good central, where I was told one is always assured a pleasant welcome. The smiles of the organisers said everything. It was broad and gleaming, like the road to Krishnapatnam port where the venue was situated. A bottomless generosity of heart. The state-of-the-art seminar hall was perfect. A two minute silence was observed at the start, to pay tribute to those who had lost their lives at Uttarakhand. Nature had been bloody in tooth and claw. Like the battlefield scene in the popular ballad Katamaraju Katha, Ganga had stood as tall as the sky and rained. Not the burning coal she rained on Katamaraju. Just rain. It is difficult to resist the temptation to quote Karl Marx’s: ‘History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.’ The farce bit was provided by none other than our political class who played the game of one-upmanship in a bid to increase the numbers rescued by them. I still agonize for the well-being of a faintly puzzled elderly American couple searching for the beach in Hyderabad, after being bundled into the aircraft on the promise of Honolulu. The South-West monsoon doesn’t lick Nellore as much as it spits on the rest of the country. The North-East monsoon does it. Much later in the year. We were spared.
The programme got off to a nice steady start. The talks and the interactions kept adding a tiny dot of colour to the pointillist canvas, and the final composition emerged at the end – an overview of pain as a bio-psychosocial phenomenon and the wherewithal to treat it. The colossal uncertainities of pain medicine were unravelled, and the probabilistic approach to care of the sufferer was discussed. There were no medical breakthroughs. Not ozone into the intervertebral disc. Not water into the intervertebral disc. Immortality was not round the corner yet. The youngsters were inspired and inspiring. Our budget diner, for which we were the marketer as well as the cook, gave them a fine dining experience. We sold the sizzle as well as the steak. We weren’t immune to the power of persuasion either. There might be a country wide ban on dextropropoxyphene and analgin, but shrimp? Freshly caught and lightly spiced shrimp has its allure. We gorged. We believed in enjoying the little things, for one day we may look back and realise they were the big things. Little luxuries.
To rhapsodize about the entire programme will take considerable space. There were certain views that resonated and captivated well. That science is somewhat ill-equipped to deal with the nuances, complexities and peculiarities of modern life. That the patient may view us as cold uncaring technician interested in diseased body part than as individuals. That single modality treatment such as interventions (only) or medications (only) might be an outgrown wedding band on a swollen finger. Oh, and the senior colleague who quoted Dr. Paul Brand (thank you for the reminder sir, we have it all here). We are a young faculty, who’ve learned more science in the teaching of it than all our formal studies. Sojourning at one court and then another, over the past year, we have been the ‘pain troubadours,’ sans the patronage of a wealthy nobleman. We have a tangible and inspiring goal. The goal of pain management centres in every district of our state. We are quietly confident that it will germinate. Secure that it will grow larger. Certain that it will eventually flower into life. This is an idea that can only fill us with hope.
Banner image courtesy: Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Event sponsored by Modi-Mundipharma and Sparsha Pharma