Editorial / By apollo
Gentle bastion of privilege
This above all / Fermenting trouble again
People / Winona Ryder
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / BY APOLLO 
 
 
 
 
More than 2,500 years ago, physicians started swearing by Apollo, Aesculapius, Hygeia and Panacea to preserve the purity of their life and art. This meant keeping the “good of the patient” above every other consideration. (Amusingly enough, Hippocrates, the framer of this oath, put in a little detail, often forgotten these days, about “keeping myself far from…all seduction”.) This ancient pledge has now been revised, elaborated and extended for the human and professional demands of the modern world. The initiative for this new charter has come from European and American doctors, but they believe it to be universal in scope and purpose. Healthcare delivery systems have been transformed by complex political, legal and market forces in virtually all industrialized nations. And this has, in turn, come to threaten the nature and values of medical professionalism.

At the core of this millennial charter lie three fundamental principles, all of which require urgent reiteration in the Indian context. First, the doctor-patient relationship is a social contract, founded on the notion of public trust, in which the patient’s welfare must be primary. Second, physicians must respect the autonomy of the patient — a fully empowered decisionmaking agent — who is entitled to honesty and information. Third, the medical profession must promote social justice through the fair distribution of healthcare resources, and by ensuring the availability of a uniform and adequate standard of care. These principles must be implemented through a set of professional responsibilities. This would involve a commitment to competence and lifelong learning for the sake of continuous improvement in the quality of healthcare; to honesty, confidentiality, and the management of conflicting interests. The latter set of responsibilities safeguards the interpersonal dynamics of the doctor-patient relationship — given the curious paradox of a professional contract between necessarily unequal parties. The considerably better informed modern patient remains inherently vulnerable to and dependent on the knowledge and skills of the physician.

All this may sound unacceptably utopian in the subcontinent. In India, medical ethics has to contend, not so much with the pros and cons of stem cell research and human cloning, as with the more basic injustices and inequalities caused by abject poverty, illiteracy and ignorance. The rising graph of HIV/AIDS, the continuing use of sex-determination technologies for female foeticide, and the inhuman disparities between private and governmental healthcare facilities are some of the actualities the medical profession has to reckon with when trying to formulate the more abstract principles it would want to live by. There is also the pervasive mindset, essentially benighted and feudal, which prevents the patient from seeing himself as an agent with rights and entitlements, human and legal. That the Consumer Protection Act could be applied to the medical profession, that the notions of accountability and redress are relevant to this particular service as well, will not occur naturally to the average Indian. Perhaps this new charter will remind Indian doctors and patients that professionalism, even consumerism, need not be inimical to the principles of trust and social justice.

   

 
 
GENTLE BASTION OF PRIVILEGE 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
Eric Newby, the English travel writer, recounts that the Kanpur Club refused him and his wife accommodation because he was not a member and could not produce one to propose him. “We have a letter of introduction from Mr Nehru,” he began but was cut short by the secretary’s “The prime minister is not a member of the Kanpur Club”. The Tanglin Club secretary’s phlegm, in asking whether the Japanese officers who peremptorily demanded admission after Singapore surrendered were members, matched that unIndian irreverence.

Kipling would have called the two secretaries, one Indian and the other British, brothers under the skin. For all I know, the Kanpur Club may have been reduced now to letting beds to all comers like the Kodaikanal Club. Today’s Tanglin is far too self-consciously smart to approve of the graffiti that the Duke of Devonshire found endearing in the Athenaeum telephone room. But social historian Anthony Lejeune’s comment that an Oxford college and a gentleman’s club are two places where people “still prefer a silver salt-cellar which doesn’t pour to a plastic one which does” would clearly have applied to both institutions when the going was good.

Lejeune’s parallel between club and Oxford inspired my response when a classics don at Corpus Christi College expressed surprise at my being so much at home in the senior common room. I explained that I had been conditioned by the Bengal Club where, according to John Masters, an honorary wartime member from the American forces peeped into the smoking room after lunch one afternoon and exclaimed, “Gee! Back home we send them to the mortuary!”

It is not, of course, the same Bengal Club that is 175 years old this month. But as Pesi Narielvala, a former president, said at the anniversary dinner on February 1, change is welcome within a framework of continuity. Even Corpus Christi’s senior common room gleams with tubular steel and plate glass though the port still circulates against the clock to indicate that the spirit is unbowed despite transformations of the flesh.

A sense of proportion is called for in celebrating the birthday of an institution that, as the Prince of Berar told Somerset Maugham, didn’t admit dogs or Indians whereas Bombay’s Royal Yacht Club excluded only Indians. It is unnecessary to nurse any grievance on that score. A club is a place “where a man goes to be among his own kind”, says Lejeune. George Orwell’s observation that the British established clubs in every Indian town left unsaid that it was to get away from India.

Therefore, Indians who take pride in the Bengal’s past are like Kipling’s bandar-log cavorting in the abandoned city. Discerning men like Sir Padam Ginwala who passed the Lejeune test before independence would not join the Bengal when political and economic circumstance (and a lecture from Prince Philip) forced it to lift its colour bar. Grandees like Sir Jyotsna Ghosal, Sir Biren Mookerjee and the Maharajadhiraja of Burdwan made more use of the Calcutta Club, established with official benediction to bridge the racial divide.

But the Bengal’s present and future are ours to reshape, never forgetting that a club is by definition both English and a bastion of privilege. Make it desi, let democracy run amok, and you are left with a restaurant, library, bridge and billiards room, but not a club.

Gladstone, who vowed to back “the masses against the classes” the world over and yet declared himself “an out-and-out inegalitarian” because the aristocratic principle meant the rule of the best, looms over London’s National Liberal — my second club, Calcutta was the first — in 36 portraits and statues. They included a painting of Gladstone’s cabinet from which Charles Dilke was painted out after being cited as a co-respondent. Mr Peters, the head porter, pointed it out to me, manfully concealing his disappointment that I was no connection of B.N. Dutta Roy, a veteran member who attended the Round Table conference with Sir Nripendranath Sircar, and whose son Amitava was last heard of in Brazil.

Another Indian link came to light when I invited Shanti Swarup Dhawan, our high commissioner, to lunch. Annoyed that his secretary should telephone to vet the venue, I asked if the National Liberal was good enough. “Very fine, Sir CP died there!” exclaimed the old India House hand, referring to C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, the “dewan of unbalanced ambition and vanity” who declared Travancore independent. Another story concerns F.E. Smith who used the National Liberal’s vast tiled lavatory every day on his way to Westminster. Gently informed by Mr Peters’s predecessor that he should be a member, the future Lord Birkenhead snapped, “You mean this is a club too?”

Porters are a superior breed. My son and I were stranded once at the Travellers Club when Alexander emerged from the porters lodge, called his peers at other clubs and found us rooms at the Athenaeum whose secretary had told the Travellers secretary only minutes before that they were full. No slipped fiver either. I am glad Amiya Gooptu, the Bengal’s current president, remembered the staff — ultimate guardians of graciousness — amidst the junketings.

They alone remember lost heirlooms like the battered reception desk with a small brass plate saying a local regiment (the Calcutta Light Horse?) had given it to Lord Kitchener; the framed 19th century map of Calcutta, the gift of a long-departed British member, with the club marked with a bold star, that hung in the library; or the photograph of the Prince of Wales with his ostrich plumes and Ich Dien (I Serve) motto that adorned a suite named after him.

They disappeared during redecoration in the mid-Nineties. Earlier, the Calcutta Club lost its brass writing set, ornate Burmese dinner gong and the entwined double C menu holders in hallmarked silver that were put out in the hall every day. The Ootacamund Club sparkles with silver and the Bangalore Club prominently displays Churchill’s portrait with his unpaid bill for a few rupees and the committee resolution writing it off. Here, even Raj Bhavan has been denuded of its treasures.

Perhaps Calcutta carries a stylish preference for silver over plastic to the extreme of literally interpreting Lejeune’s other exhortation to treat the club like home. Shakespeare’s Henry V claimed to love France so much that he would not part with a single French village!

Paul Theroux describes the desolation of Lahore’s Punjab Club. When my son was a Haileybury sixth former, the East India Club in St James’s Square (incorporating the Devonshire, Sports and Public Schools) tempted boys with an irresistibly attractive package. But India has internalized clubs, as it has high courts, legislatures, the communist parties and other relics of the raj. Pressure will grow as more people move south of Park Street, send their children to English-medium schools and seek all the symbols of status. Many may even have to emulate the Delhi Gymkhana’s innovative Green Cards for the grown-up children of members.

Club life is booming. But the boom is of the dhak and dhol, not the bugle and bagpipe.

There might even be ironic justice in this metamorphosis. “We now use the word clubbe,” wrote a 17th century Londoner, “for a sodality in a tavern.” The adda soon shifted to the coffee houses — where else? — that women petitioned against and Charles II tried unsuccessfully to suppress. Gaming, gossip, literature, scandal, politics and conspiracy were thus the mainstay of London’s original clubs. One might argue, therefore, that the cheerful raucousness of Indian clubs, the canvassing, fierce electoral battles and lawsuits, so far removed from the leather-upholstered serenity of Boodle’s or the Reform, represent a return to roots.

The splendid sodality — fellowship — of the Bengal’s birthday bash even suggests that Malcolm Muggeridge’s famous comment about “the only Englishmen left in the world” should be narrowed down to Calcutta. India’s oldest club remains its most convivial.

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL / FERMENTING TROUBLE AGAIN 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
Recent archaelogical discoveries conclusively prove that before learning to bake bread human beings learnt to brew beer. According to an article in The Economist, a 3,800 year-old clay tablet shows that during King Hammurabi’s reign in Mesopotamia (1720 BC), beer was recognized for its medical properties and consumed by all members of society, male and female. The tablet in question depicts Ninkasi, a Sumerian goddess, brewing beer. It has been conjectured that the earliest cereal to be farmed was barley growing wild. It was difficult to knead it into bread, but mixed with water and fruit it fermented quickly and turned into light potable alcoholic drink. At one time no distinction was made between beer brewed from barley and wine made of grapes or mead made from honey.

In the second century AD, the famous physician Galen used wine to disinfect wounds. Beers and wines were favoured by the Romans. They discovered that the presence of alcohol made water safe to drink. They often diluted their wines and beers with brackish sea water to give them smoothness. England discovered wine with a bang on April 19, 1587, when Sir Francis Drake attacked the Spanish port of Cadiz where the Spanish navy was assembling its fleet to invade England. Besides sinking all Spanish warships, Drake captured 2,900 barrels of Sherry (so named after the Jerez region of Spain). High English society took to Sherry like fish to water. Before Drake, navigators like Columbus (1490) and Magellan (1519) had discovered that Sherry remained drinkable longer than other wines and took many barrels of it on their long sea voyages.

William Shakespeare was an ardent patron of Sherry, then known in England as Sack. He makes his character Falstaff his mouthpiece to proclaim, “If I had a thousand sons, the first human principle I would teach them is to forswear thin potations and to addict themselves to Sack.” How is it that our ancestors did not learn to brew beer till the sahib log landed on our hospitable shores? They made Somras, Arrak, toddy and heady brandies. The only thing that passed for beer was made of fermented rice which still remains a part of the darling ration of our tribal brethren. Lest I be accused of subverting the morals of Indian youth, I quote the last two lines from the article in The Economist: “…There is now strong scientific evidence that alcohol, taken in moderation, can help you travel forward in time too, by reducing the risk of heart disease by as much as 40 per cent. Cheers!”

How to have a ball in Goa

When I have nothing better to do, I sit in the hotel lounge watching people check-in and check-out. A lot of people come to Goa to attend conferences and savour a little of the relaxed atmosphere that pervades, inhale fresh sea breeze or stroll by the sea. They spend their days in conference halls, listen to boring speeches and read learned papers. Their evenings are wasted in pointless tittle-tattle in cocktail parties. They make no Goan friends; the Goanese take little interest in them. For me it is the regulars who matter because they give me a sense of belonging. There is the Spanish Maria Delora, she spends some months every year in Goa. She is thin, wispy, grey-haired and unsmiling. She is always carping about something or the other but is back every winter. The Krusnners from Dusseldorf came and left before I got here. But the portly, paunchy Fredi Schorn from Mulheim never fails to turn up. He makes his presence known by blowing his nose several times like a trumpet. His pockets are full of ballpoint pens which he gives away as gifts to anyone he likes. “You write Jah?”, he asked me and put one in my pocket. I tried to write with it; no ink flowed. “Fredi, your good German pen is no good,” I complained to him. He took the pen out of my hand and scratched vigorously on my notebook till ink began to flow. “See — try, try, try again.” To make up for its earlier failure, Fredi planted three more pens in my pocket. Four Indians joined me. Two I recognized and presumed to be man and wife. I was wrong. The lady reminded me we had met over 30 years ago in Kasauli. She was then the young wife of the aged general Gurbaksh Singh, PSO, OBE, Padma Shri. And much else. In a gush of words she filled in her curriculum vitae: Miss Simla, Binaca tooth paste, smile champion (because of her pearly white teeth), president of the war widows’ association. And much else. She came back to me. I had seen her as a busty young lass striding the hill along with an enormous German shepherd. At that time she did not exchange a word with me: now there was not a pause in the reintroduction. She ended by presenting me with her visiting card which bore our national emblem above her name, Mrs Sudesh G.B. Singh (Sandy), Bharat Gaurav award recipient. “The rest of what I do is at the back of the card,” she said. She ordered tea for five, made a gesture to pay for it and then took leave. “We have already taken a lot of your precious time,” she said as she departed.

The fool on the hill

I regard celebrating Valentine’s Day, sending cards declaring love, or inserting amorous messages in newspapers as adoloscent and silly. But making an issue of this harmless pastime by organizing demonstrations against it, I regard to be even sillier. Why don’t people like Bal Thackeray learn to mind their own business and let others do what they like? I know card manufacturers and newspapers make huge profits on Valentine’s Day, but what right has anyone in a democratic society to dictate to others how they should spend their money? I am tempted to buy a Valentine’s Day card full of mushy love messages and send it to the Shiv Sena supremo whom I do not love at all. He is a rabble rouser. When he cannot find anything better, he picks on artists and film producers, holding them responsible for hurting Hindu sentiments. Of all the meaningless issues he could pick up every February he chooses Valentine’s Day. He says it is un-Indian. Indeed it is as un-Indian as April Fool’s Day. He probably thinks it’s of Christian origin, hence doubly reprehensible. He should know it has nothing Christian about it; it is a pagan festival to mark the advent of spring when young peoples’ minds turn to thoughts of love.

Did you know...

The following answers were given by an applicant for admission to a medical college: Caesarian section — a district in Rome; Cardiology — advanced study of poker playing; chronic — neck of crow; coma — punctuation mark; diagnosis — person with slanted nose; duodenum — couple in blue jeans; false labour — pretending to work; lactose — people without feet; pacemaker— winner of Nobel peace prize; vein — at what time?; urine — opposite of you’re out; tumor — extra pair

(Contributed by : Nilofer Bilimoria, Mumbai)

   

 
 
PEOPLE / WINONA RYDER 
 
 
 
 

When reality bites

Hollywood gossip tells it this way. During the shoot of the comedy Mr Deeds Goes to Town, to be released later this year, actress Winona Ryder was known to shamelessly boast that she could swipe anything that wasn’t nailed down. No, she was not talking about stealing young male hearts — which she does with alarming accuracy — or celluloid scenes. She was proclaiming herself as the queen of shoplifters.

Now, after being charged with four felonies — theft, burglary, vandalism and possession of a controlled substance — stemming from her shoplifting arrest at the upmarket Saks store in Los Angeles, the otherwise usual grapevine yarn seems to ring heavy with irony. Of course, the doe-eyed 30-year-old Hollywood hottie has pleaded not guilty and her high-profile lawyer Mark Geragos has dismissed the whole incident as “a mistake”. But then, as a Los Angeles district attorney office spokesman put it, “What do you think he is going to say? Most suspects aren’t Winona Ryder.”

True. Neither can most celeb suspects match her bill. Born Winona Laura Horowitz, she has been twice nominated for an Oscar — for 1993’s The Age of Innocence and 1994’s Little Women. She is the Gen-X sex symbol — many of her films such as Heathers, Edward Scissorhands, Reality Bites are hailed as onscreen versions of the ‘90s grunge sensibility. And more importantly, she has consistently turned up her nose at being the Hollywood bimbo in favour of offbeat, even dark and brooding, films and characters. To drive home the point, she paints her otherwise blonde hair, mostly associated with dumb beauty, dark brown. “She’s Ava Gardner but add 80 IQ points,” says a friend.

Often labelled quirky and precocious by film journalists (to which her reaction is “they should be shot”), playing the misfit has cost her her career. She hasn’t had a hit in years – the last being Girl, Interrupted in 1999 but then Angelina Jolie stole the show. Although she still commands a $6 million fee per film and is widely respected by the industry, her continuous straddling between conformity and unconventionality — in real and screen life — has lead to the several physical and emotional breakdowns she has had in the past decade.

According to Dr Robert Millman, a professor of psychiatry at Cornell University, if high-profile people don’t receive the acclaim that they have grown used to, “they plummet, like bursting a narcissistic balloon… it’s tremendously isolating. Then they actually take physical or personal risks because they are not adequately paying attention to the outside world.”

In 1990, Ryder showed the first signs of fragility. That year, she backed out of the plum role of Mary Corleone (Michael Corleone’s daughter) in The Godfather: Part III after reportedly catching the flu. The decision drew a lot of flak but since she was riding high at that point, critics let her off the hook pretty easy. Three years later, she admitted herself in a hospital, burnt out from the filming of House of The Spirits, wracked by the breakup with her first serious boyfriend, actor Johnny Depp, and suffering from insomnia and anxiety attacks. Almost a mirror image of the character she played in Girl, Interrupted and much like many of the troubled teens she has portrayed in her films. Last August, she again pulled out of the film Lily and the Secret Planting. Her part was handed over to Kate Winslet. This time she proved a feast for the tattler mags.

Her love life has been a rocky revolving door of actors and musicians, many of them known more for their brains than brawns, who brought their share of drama and discord. Depp was just the first to go. From rockers Dave Pirner and Beck to Hollywood whizkid Matt Damon, her whirlwind relationships have made her a Liz Taylor on hyperdrive. A joke, popularised by Kurt Cobain’s widow Courtney Love, sums it up like this: “In rock, you are nothing if you haven’t slept with Winona Ryder.”

And Love, who’s one of Ryder’s best friends these days, is no good influence either. The Nirvana woman was booked in Beverly Hills in 1993 for a drug overdose. Two months back, both of them got into a scuffle during a U2 concert in LA and security officers had to intervene. Blame it on bad company or what you will, Ryder also spent a lot of time in 2001 trying to quell allegations that her ups and downs stemmed from a drug problem that worsened with every tumultuous affair. Her representatives denied the accusations but one of them admitted that “because of her upbringing, she’s certainly experimented.” Ryder has spent her whole life on the edge of the establishment. Her parents were bonafide hippies, who hung around with the likes of beat poet Allen Ginsberg and LSD guru-cum-60s philosopher Timothy Leary, her godfather. She was brought up in a rural commune in northern California, where sex and drugs were as mainstream as cola and authority didn’t have much respect.

When she was about 12, she was charged with stealing a comic book. When the police turned up at the Horowitz household with Winona in their custody, her parents gave them a good whacking. Even today, Ryder has a little wink in her eyes when she talks about her parents. “I remember one time my father came to pick me up from school. He was wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt and they wouldn’t let him pick me up,” she once related in a Rolling Stone interview.

However, it wasn’t her dad but Ryder herself who was responsible for being kicked out of school, proving that she no conformist either. Her alleged crime? Vagrancy and witchcraft, the very crimes that her character was charged with in the screen adaptation of the Arthur Miller classic, The Crucible. When you add to all this the fact that the counterculture classic Catcher in The Rye is her favourite book and she supposedly possesses a copy of every edition ever released, you have the picture of a rebel –– moody yet winsome and talented with avant-garde leanings.

Even the change from Horowitz to Ryder was typically Winona — an act of whim. Shortly before the release of her first movie Lucas in 1986, Winona was asked how she wanted her name to appear on the credits and she asked for Ryder. “I think my dad had a Mitch Ryder album on,” she later revealed.

What was even more quintessential Winona was her explanation to a security officer in Saks. When caught, she allegedly told them that she was merely conducting research for a movie character at the suggestion of her director. Word is out that no such film is in the pipeline. But doesn’t that explanation sound like it is coming straight from the mouth of Catcher hero Holden Caulfield?

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

When Vajpayee comes a-calling

Sir — One suspects that the campaign for the forthcoming assembly elections is quite a strain on the septuagenarian Atal Bihari Vajpayee (“No Pak visit without invite: Atal”, Feb 7). Addressing a gathering in Pathankot he declared that he would never go to Pakistan unless invited, and added — somewhat vaingloriously — that he also wouldn’t go to god, unless invited. Vajpayee seems to have got a little carried away with the rhetoric here. When god calls Vajpayee won’t have a choice; but when Pakistan invites, he can decide whether he wants to go or not. The Kashmiris, however, have been denied this freedom.

Yours faithfully,
Radhamohan Ganguly, Calcutta

Fatal encounters

Sir — The report, “Killer confesses before dying in Hazaribagh” (Feb 5), was too simplistic. The correspondent, Anupam Sheshank, gives too much credence to the police’s version of events. The report also does not probe the circumstances that led to the death of one suspect, Mohammad Idris, whom the police claimed to have shot down while he was trying to escape. Though the correspondent did talk to some local residents, they too corroborated the official version of the incident.

But this is real life and not a Bollywood film. Why would Idris confess, given a confession would not benefit him in any way? Also, there is something dubious about dying confessions in general. After the Calcutta shoot-out, the Union home minister, L.K. Advani, was quick to blame the Inter-Services Intelligence. Is it possible that the home ministry has been carried away a little in its desire to nab the killers?

Yours faithfully,
John Murti, Ranchi

Sir — It is disheartening that neither the Calcutta police nor the West Bengal crime investigation department played an important part in tracking down and nabbing the terrorists who masterminded the January 22 attack outside the American Center. The Delhi police worked closely with their counterparts in Hazaribagh on the case, but the Calcutta police were not even informed about the operation. Though the city police did redeem its reputation somewhat with the arrest of Jamaluddin Nasir, it will take a lot more to shake off the people’s skepticism.

The chief minister of West Bengal has frequently expressed the desire to transform the state into a paradise for potential investors. However, unless the government can reign in terrorists and streamline the police force by emphasizing professionalism and accountability, he will not find too many investors willing to risk their money on projects in the state.

Yours faithfully,
Avishek Biswas, Calcutta

Among the books

Sir — The Calcutta Book Fair has become an annual pilgrimage for most Calcuttans. But the number of books sold every year is far less than the number of visitors to the fair. One reason for this could be that a discount of only 10 per cent is offered by the publisher and bookseller’s guild. Most visitors to the fair are aware that there are many shops on College Street that offer a better discount of 20 per cent. In order to boost sales, the organizers could cut down on other expenses and increase the discount on offer to 15 per cent.

Yours faithfully,
Saikat Pandit, Uttarpara

Sir — During a visit to the Calcutta Book Fair, I was saddened to find that it was inaccessible to wheelchair users. Barring the metalled road, the walkways are not smooth enough for wheelchairs to move. Neither the stalls nor the auditorium has a ramp. A number of disabled youngsters could not join the Anandamela story-telling session last Sunday as the entrance to the auditorium did not facilitate their entry. While the organizers have allowed some non-governmental organizations to open a stall in order to create awareness on disability, they have failed to provide the disabled with proper facilities so that they too can purchase books along with others.

Yours faithfully,
Amitava Banerjee, Calcutta

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