Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Binary Life असावं का नसावं ?

Life is never binary. Never has been. Some think it's all about being yes or no, one or zero, black or white.

This has really never been truer, for example, in medicine. The recent journalistic explosion over a couple going to court in order to being allowed to undergo an abortion , past the prescribed limiting age of the foetus, and the possibility of the foetus being detected with a congenital heart problem . The reports of the ultrasonography, being interpreted in various way. Experts giving their variable opinion. Varying levels of danger to the mother being perceived by trained investigative eyes. Diametrically opposite conclusions being drawn by medical types, people calculating the costs of existence of the foetus with various life saving treatments once it enters this world, and the Dean of a major public hospital attributing his changed committee opnion, to a typographical error....(again black and white).

Takes me back to my childhood, in the fifties, where our neighbours were a family of 5. The oldest , a girl who was my brother's best friend. Her brother was a child afflicted by something that accumulated fluid in the brain. To this day, I do not recall seeing that child ever standing up, or even sitting up. We would all be playing in his room when indoors, and his smile was always part of our group. We communicated with him, regardless of his responses, in a very natural way; no one said anything about any therapies to anyone. His mother tended to him like she tended to all her children, but with a lot of extra physical interaction that was mandatory, given his muscular inabilities. His every new improvement, transient or permanent was celebrated , less as a milestone, but more as a blessing from someone for a beloved child. No one told his parents about "expected life spans " and stuff like that, but at one point it was thought that it might be a good idea if this child had another sibling.

I wonder what must have gone through the parents' minds at that point. I wonder if other older family members had anything to say. I dont know if any grandmother types did any special deals with God for a male offspring. I know the children of the family were delighted and so were we, when it was a healthy boy. That new child was the biggest thrill for his brother and sister, and became the centre of our playgroup in his childhood

What has stayed with me always, is the smiling countenance of the mother, the playful way in which the father would greet the older boy when he returned home from work daily, how the siblings would throw their bags aside, after returning from school, to go to him, and the sheer delight on the face of the differently abled child, so specially wanted, by everyone around him.

It says a lot about society then, when I recall that this child was never spoken about in difficult terms by our parents. I am sure, his parents consulted the best medical people. There were medications and treatments. Some worked, some did not. They were not superhuman, and I am sure that once in a while the mother would give way to tears in the company of my mother who was her best friend. That was what friends were there for. No one discussed and wrote anything about support groups and such things.

And so the other children of the family, grew up, learning about life , and how to tackle reverses and slowdowns; how to empathize, how to judge people over a lifetime of observing attitudes in adverse situations; and how to accept great defeats along with outrageous victories.

There was no law; but there was faith. There was an implicit understanding of the sick child's right to have a loving family for whatever time he would be on this earth. There was sense of acceptance of what is known in sanskrit as "prarabdha", or understanding your present state of life as a result of your karma in past life. Life was lived in a continuum, and not in reports that spoke in ultimatums,limits, hazy digital pictures, and probabilities of survival .

One may or may not believe in reincarnation and past karma. But today, all that the wonderful parents of the boy underwent in making life cheerful and tolerable for the little sick boy, is something that psychologists, psychiatrists and mind-body medicine proponents have been advocating , as if it is a new thing.

Something to be said, in living life as part of a whole, rather than living as if each part of the whole needed to be super perfect.

That little boy is no more. His parents, too are no more. But I am sure his siblings are today, very balanced individuals, bringing soothing stability into the lives of their own families.

I wonder if we need to take a call on how deep technology should interfere in life. Despite IVF, and other acronymized methods of conception, it is a fact that no one has been able to replicate the uterus in its ability to nurture, develop, protect and introduce to the world, a child , in complete dynamic hormonal and other balance with the mother's body. The human body has been known to have amazing resources for healing itself, and it is a fact that when this is not possible , in-utero, foetal development comes to a standstill by itself, is so detected and acted upon by doctors.

How many scans will you subject the mother to ? How many hazy digital pictures will you examine, constantly coming to conflicting conclusions about the foetus, who may be simply trying its best to work out its problems in cooperation with its mother's body systems, anyway , in the time it has, left, in the womb? Are there not doctors who feel that the foetus's problems may NOT worsen further, in the remaining period in the womb, and this may be a treatable problem when the child is older ? Who gives anyone the absolute right to decide to kill the foetus, based on statistics, pixels, ability to display 1/0 situations, , and the questionable eyesight of a big officer of one of Mumbai's big public hospitals?

(Some prefer to see this as an issue of a woman's right over her own body. This makes sense when the issue is of impending hurt or physical health-disadvantage (with no possible other solution), to the mother. Yes, then she has a right to say," I wont go through this, save me." . It doesnt make sense when this is possibly the first child , and medical opinion is divided on the possibility of normal outcome, and not so divided on the possible danger to the mother's life if abortion is attempted. Plenty of birth control methods are available, in the first place to the couples who do not want a biological child. )

Life in certainly not binary. Between the tough and traumatic , 0 and 1, there are many continuum stages of 0.1, 0.2, 0.25, 0.3 ...... 0.8,0.9.... 0.99.... some happy, some not so happy.

Between the peaks and troughs, a lifetime of continuous learning .

If we only did.

As non-digital as can be .


  1. Oh!So beautifully written may be will motivate me to write a blog!!

  2. Although I seem to echo your opinions on most of your posts, here I feel somewhat differently. If it was me in a similar situation, I too would have opted for abortion, not because I shirk the responsibility of bringing up a child with some ailment, but simply because I would be worried about who would look after him/her in my absence.
    This is obviously a very complicated issue, but I feel the court/commentators are letting ethics/morality cloud the practical aspect of the problem.

  3. Thank you for writing in. This issue has evoked so much comment. I dont know if you read/understand marathi, but the Sunday Loksatta issue of 10/8/2008, has a wonderful and balanced article by Dr Sanjay Oak, administrator of Nair Hospital (in the midst of many relatively extreme articles by others, on both sides of the issue). Do have a look if you get a the meanwhile Niketa's kid needs all the prayers that we can give.

  4. hi , i have been reading your posts for quite a while. This post compelled me to comment on it...i have not experienced motherhood, i am not married as well so i can't understand the phase that a girl goes through to become a woman, a mother . But as a girl, a human being i can feel the situation. I think that if i were Niketa , i would have opted to abort the baby because -
    1. Imagine the child grows up and understands its inability to lead a normal life. It would break the child's confidence, it would yen and cry within day in and day out for playing, having fun like other kids. This phase would be even more paniful for the parent !
    2. This is my personal experience. I have studied in a school which also ran a school for mentally challenged kids. Many girls used to ask us - "meri shaadi kab hogi ?" ("When will i get married?"). I was chilled when i heard is so painful to tell them that they can't get married, go through the same experience that a jubilant bride goes through !
    3. As Sucharita Sarkar said, what if the parents die and the child has no one to look after. The thought of it is horrifying !

  5. Radhika,

    Thank you for visiting my blog. You know, this topic actually cannot have a single solution. Depending on whether you are an "able"family as opposed to whether you are a family with one of more "in some way disabled" member(s), I think your way of looking will be different. I have had to deal with learning disabilities in someone, which was completely unexpected. It taught me that successes are of many kinds, and not necessaraily those that are defined so in the co-ordinate system defined by able people.

    But I think this Niketa episode, actually started a lot of people thinking about this, which , I suppose is a good thing.....

  6. This is a reasonably old post to comment on, but I felt the necessity to. I am not married or have never had kids, but I know a family where there is a visually challenged man. Until age of 10 or so he gradually lost his vision leading him to complete visual impairment. In Indian society, he is the backbone of the family. I know their history very well, his mother and father took enormous efforts to bring him up and his mother dedicated her life reading books for him and taking his classes. Unfortunately, she left this world too soon! Today he has M.A. with honors in economics and has a wife and two daughters. He works in a semi-government organization and teaches visually challenged people how to be independent and at times fights for his and others rights. One of the daughters is an all-India ranker CA and another is doing her PhD in Germany.
    I wonder, whether we are afraid to dedicate our life to bring up a physically or mentally challenged person and make him/her successful? On one hand when women have their rights and are more in control of predicting future of their child, are we forgetting somewhere the confidence that we show on another human being? May it be even on your own kid?
    I do not know what I would do, had I been in such situation. It's a different case when the child has severe problems and the chances the s/he survives are less, and it's another thing when you just have to overcome some disability.
    Although the story I wrote here is completely true, there are aspects to it. What I want to point out is the fact that given a chance to life and the desire to make a difference one can be larger than life!

  7. Maushi,
    You write beautifully. You remind me of my mother. :)

  8. A very beautifully written article, an eye opener and makes one ponder about true meaning of life. Many thanks for sharing such profound thoughts.