Unconfirmed reports indicate many doctors in the country are looking for alternative jobs.
All of a sudden, everybody and his uncle is talking about the unemployment situation in our country. Let me rephrase that. All those who are opposed to the present ruling dispensation are spewing venom on the government for allegedly turning a blind eye to the plight of the huddled masses who cannot find work and could well be on the verge of starvation, if not extinction. On the other hand, those favourably disposed towards Prime Minister Modi and his policies, aka bhakts, point to the sterling work his government is putting in, not only to get the economy kick-started after the pandemic (‘which we have tackled better than any other country in the world’), but to generate employment on a pan-India basis. Employment and unemployment are the two key words in this political binary that we are going to get a lot of in the coming months, what with several key state elections in the offing. To say nothing of the blockbuster General Elections in 2024.
As matters reach fever pitch at the hustings, the populace will be inundated with mind-numbing statistics on the entire employment scenario. Without a shadow of doubt the jungle of figures will be suitably massaged and finessed by all the stakeholders at the elections in a manner to suit their own argument, given that employment is a highly emotive issue. As a matter of policy, I pay scant attention to these numbers, a) because I am numerically challenged and b) its all lies, damned lies and statistics anyway, as Mark Twain so pithily put it. Let all the economists, financial and political pundits make what they will of the verbal diarrhoea soon to be unleashed on an unsuspecting populace. I am much more intrigued by something else I heard recently. It may just be an irresponsible rumour, but there is some talk that the medical profession is worried about losing jobs in large numbers because the coronavirus is in swift recession, while hospitalisations and visits to doctors are almost back to pre-pandemic days. Into each life, a little rain must fall. I am then contemplating a situation where doctors, for want of adequate work in their chosen area of medical expertise, are offering themselves to undertake other jobs, even in relatively uncharted waters, just to keep the wolf from the door.
The scene opens in an upper middle-class family home in one of India’s urban cities. The husband has gone to work. The wife has just called one of those 24 x 7 service companies, who can take on any task from fixing a gas leak, checking on the plumbing system, cleaning the carpets, fumigating the house, and taking the little doggie out for ‘walkies.’ In this particular case, the power supply system at their semi-detached villa has collapsed. The wife is desperate, she rings her husband at the office and brings him up to speed. The hubby, taking no chances, also calls the service chappies, and the next thing you know, the doorbell rings and the harried, but now relieved wife rushes to open the door. Quick correction. The doorbell does not actually ring because there is no power. The wife runs to the door on hearing the horse-shoe, brass metal door knocker going ballistic. She is confronted by a pleasant looking young man displaying a stethoscope sticking out of the pocket of his large, white waistcoat.
The Service Chap – ‘Good morning, I understand you called for an electrician. Perhaps you could let me in and tell me exactly what the symptoms are.’
The Wife – ‘Symptoms? I am sorry, I am a bit confused. You look more like a doctor than an electrician. What is that rubber tube thing sticking out of your pocket?’
The Service Chap – ‘Don’t worry about that. Just tell me exactly where the pain is?’
The Wife – ‘Pain? You mean the electrical problem. Yes, for a moment there I thought you said pain.’
The Service Chap – ‘It’s this howling wind. Storm brewing. Plays tricks with one’s ears. Right, let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we? Are we talking about a complete power failure, or just partial blockage?’
The Wife – ‘Blockage? Look there’s power in all the neighbouring homes. I called many of them and checked. So, it is not the electricity company’s problem. What? Of course, we have paid our monthly electricity bills. It’s one of those auto-debit things with our bank. ECS or something. It could be our back-up UPS system that has gone kaput or some kind of undetected electrical fault. That is what we want you to check and, hopefully, rectify, if you are up to it. The food is beginning to get rancid in the fridge. So could you kindly get a move on?’
The Service Chap – ‘Madam, we cannot just rush these things. This is a serious case. I would go so far as to describe it as critical. I need to conduct a battery of tests before arriving at the correct diagnosis. Only then can a proper course of treatment be recommended.’
The Wife – ‘What on earth are you chuntering on about diagnosis and treatment? Next you will be recommending surgery. Are you sure you are not a visiting doctor accidentally come to the wrong address? You certainly look like one. Some poor patient might be at death’s door even while you are wasting your time at my place. I’ll call the company again.’
The Service Chap – ‘No, no. Ha, ha. Madam, don’t be so hasty. I read a lot of medical thrillers in my spare time. You know, A.J. Cronin, Robin Cook, Michael Crichton, that kind of stuff. It’s a passion. So, I tend to use medical terms at times. Metaphorically. Take no notice. Just point me to your generator room.’
The Wife – ‘Follow me. It’s part of our garage, actually. There, that’s where the UPS system is. I checked the batteries, and they have all been properly serviced just a week ago. We have an AMC with the company.’
The Service Chap – ‘AMC, UPS, ECS, we only speak in acronyms these days. Now then, Madam, may I request you to leave me alone with the patient for a while. I need to concentrate fully without any distraction.’
The Wife – ‘Patient? Did I hear you say patient?’
The Service Chap – ‘Did I, I mean did you? Gosh, must have been a slip of the tongue. Force of habit. Sorry. Allow me to continue with my investigation.’
The wife thought she heard this strange chap mutter under his breath, ‘and I don’t even have a nurse to assist me,’ but she let it pass. At least, he didn’t blurt out, ‘scalpel.’ Instead, she went back to her room and called her husband on the mobile.
‘Listen dear, sorry if I disturbed you at a meeting or something, but this so-called electrician that the service company sent down appears to be a complete nincompoop. Non compos mentis. He keeps talking about symptoms, tests, patients and so on. I am at my wit’s end. He might burn the entire place down.’
My husband went into a controlled spasm of laughter. ‘My dear light of my life, I think I know what the entire confusion is in aid of. Didn’t you read in the papers that a large number of doctors could be out on the dole, looking for employment in other fields? I am sure this bright spark, whom you fear might be a potential arsonist, is one of those. I wouldn’t worry. They have been properly trained. I am sure he knows what he is doing. Even I could have managed it, if I had had the time.’
‘You! Please. Last time you tried to change a light bulb, you brought the entire crystal glass chandelier crashing down on our dining table. And don’t even get me started on your changing the fuse. I am on a short fuse here, myself. Thanks for nothing. I’ll take care of this lunatic.’
The wife went anxiously back to the garage and found the ex-doctor fiddling furiously with some wires. He even carefully placed his stethoscope on one of the batteries and listened attentively! And hey presto, next thing you knew, the house was awash with blazing lights and whirring fans. Even the refrigerator was purring contentedly.
The Wife – ‘My God, you did it! It’ll probably go off again in a few minutes, but well done. For a moment there, you really had me worried sick. I feared that we will all be sitting on a mound of ash and rubble. For an ex-doctor, you do seem to know something about electricity. What was the problem?’
The Service Chap – ‘Thank you Madam. Who told you I was a doctor?’
The Wife – ‘Oh, I don’t know. That stethoscope sticking out of your white coat pocket was a dead giveaway. Then all those references to diagnoses, symptoms and so on. I smelt a rat. Anyhow, thank you. I’ll go and make us a nice cup of tea. We’ve both earned that.’
The Service Chap – ‘Thank you Madam. Most kind. I also notice that you are suffering from a hacking cough, and your eyes are watering. If you wish, I can do a quick check up of your pulse and BP, give you the once over and prescribe some medication. And that will be on the house. I am not moonlighting.’
The Wife – ‘Wow, a two-in-one pro. Would you check me out? Terrific! You still haven’t told me how you fixed the electrical problem. I need to know. It could happen again as soon as you leave.’
The Service Chap – (enigmatically) ‘Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. Trial and error, more error than trial.’
They both laughed heartily and enjoyed their cups of tea and cheese and tomato sandwiches. As the service chap-cum-doctor drove away in his battered-up van, he thought he heard a loud blast coming from very close to the villa he had just left, along with a muffled scream from a woman. From his rear-view mirror, he could see a thick black cloud of smoke rising in the receding distance. He jammed his foot on the accelerator pedal right down to the floor and sped off as fast as his rickety vehicle would take him.