Thursday, May 1, 2003

A Form of Wealth

A Form of Wealth
By Narendra Luther

It was once said, ‘ if wealth is lost, nothing is lost, if health is lost something is lost, if character is lost every thing is lost.’ Such a statement could have been made only by some one who was poor – and before electoral politics was introduced in India. Now the order has changed. We see every day that wealth is every thing and the loss of character does not mean anything. On the other hand, it only increases the chances of becoming wealthier. But health remains in the middle of either order. You can strut about without character, but you can’t move from your bed without good health. You can earn pots of money, but you can’t enjoy it without good health. You can only make doctors wealthy.

Health is so important that in every society an inquiry about it forms an integral part of the initial greeting. It is a curse of human estate that you have to do so much to maintain good health. Animals keep their health merely by living their life. They remain healthy unless some human being inflicts some injury on them. Veterinary hospitals have been opened by human beings for animals, largely to keep them in an unnatural state – and for their own amusement. However, not being one myself, I don’t know much about animals. I am quite surprised when some people make pronouncements about the likes and dislikes of animals, like: ‘ O! dogs love biscuits’. All I know is that they like to be left alone and that is one thing that we don’t do. We are essentially ringmasters in a circus. When we say we love animals, we mean those whom we keep under our control.

However, let us revert to the problem of maintaining good health in humans. There is an old saying that prevention is better than cure. Surely, it was not a physician who would have said that. Who would want his business ruined? I believe the reverse of it – cure is better than prevention. Prevention is a daily nuisance, a regime of constant denial, something that may finally turn out to be entirely unwarranted. On the other hand, a cure becomes necessary only occasionally and makes for a good departure from routine. I do not like the hard work involved in trying to maintain good health. One of them is taking some sort of exercise every day – like walking. Now, walking to no purpose is a complete waste of time and energy. I walk when I have to reach somewhere, for some work and not just to return tired after half an hour or so.

To know the importance of good health, it is necessary to fall ill sometime. A healthy person does not know what it means to be healthy -- or sick. A sick person knows both and so is better informed. I am not advocating the cause of ill health. I am not an agent of the medical profession. I am talking of small harmless illnesses like a bad cold, a minor hurt, and a small fever. A sort of situation, which is not life – threatening, and is generally described as ‘indisposition’ in the medical bulletin of VIP’s. It provides you with much- needed break from routine, and a short absence from your social circle. It enhances your social importance. People enquire why you were absent from a particular function. It generates sympathy for you. It provides you an opportunity to know who cares for you and how much. It is an index of your importance. It distinguishes friends from foes. Friends want to know if your indisposition is something serious -- and are disappointed if it is not. On hearing about the sickness of a friend, the instinctive remark is, ‘ Nothing trivial, I hope’.

Callers ask you how you fell ill. Some people seize upon that opportunity to transform themselves into an Ancient Mariner. I have heard such sob stories many times. Sometime, the tape is replayed when another caller drops in while I am still there. Good manners prevent me from interrupting. That is a signal for me to leave. I do not get into narrating the Arabian Night when I fall ill. I try to dismiss it as ‘one of those things’. But some callers are not satisfied. Last time I got reports that they spread the canard that I was merely feigning sickness since I could not say how it all happened. So, credibility lies in conformity.

If you are not the social type, it provides an opportunity to be all by your self. Just loll about in your bed and listen to your favourite music, or read a book that was lying neglected on the shelf awaiting your attention. It also gives you an excuse not to do the daily shave or take he prescribed bath or even change your clothes. You can ask your favourite dishes to be prepared and, having savoured them, sleep as much as you like. During the period of your indisposition, you are the centre of the world for the family. The rest of the world becomes secondary. It also provides time for you to brood, to think about the worthwhile ness of your work and to think of doing something different, or the same thing differently. It is during such interludes of enforced idleness that most of the inventions of the world were made, and some careers changed. George Bernard Shaw put it in his own way when he said,’ I enjoy convalescence. It is that part which makes illness worthwhile’

Medical advice is never so freely available as when you are unwell. Callers will tell you how they got out of a similar ailment by taking a particular medicine. If you are on allopathic system, some one will advice you to go in for homeopathy. If you are already an addict of the sweet pill, your well wisher will exhort you to try Ayurveda. If you are a votary of this native system, some friend will ask you to come out of superstitions and orthodoxies if you want to live at all. Some persons start parallel streams of treatment hoping that their recovery will be expedited by the double or triple dose. Some diseases are infectious. Unfortunately, health is not. They should try to make health also infectious.

I am not a serious person by nature. I cannot therefore be an advocate of serious sickness. I am talking about minor ailments, which are part of a healthy life. If you are feeling low, neglected by the family and friends, taken for granted by colleagues, my advice is contract a minor illness -- and sees the difference. It is good for your morale.