<%-- Page Title--%> Nothing If Not Serious <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 133 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

December 12, 2003

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A Sound Physician is a Demi-god

Shawkat Hussain

I learnt from a recent email from a friend in Bangkok that two Bangladeshis perished in a fire that gutted a hotel in Soi 3 in Thanon Sukumvit in Bangkok. A third jumped from the second floor and was injured. Normally this news would not have meant much to me. Everyday Bangladeshis are dying everywhere. A family of 11 died in a fire recently; newspapers routinely carry stories of murders, suicides and various unnatural deaths. News of deaths is hardly news anymore. But the Bangkok deaths caught my attention because I spent some hours on the same street, Soi 3, hardly two weeks before the fire. I saw many Bangladeshis on the street, exchanged words with some, and knew why they were there. I remember staring up with amazement and admiration at the sky-trains that zoomed 30 feet above the streets and wondered why we couldn't have something like that. I remember looking at all the massage parlours offering all kinds of services, and thinking, 'Do I dare, do I dare.” In the end, I did not dare.

Just off Soi 3, there is a hospital that is quite well-known to many here. I was in Bangkok visiting that hospital because doctors here in Dhaka and the numerous clinics and hospitals where they practice had failed to satisfy. I presume that the Bangladeshis who died in the fire were also there for the same reason. And so was Professor Badruzzoza Chowdhury, who according to newspaper reports was visiting a hospital in Bangkok to see the ailing father-in-law of his son. There was a picture in the newspaper recently showing the doctor embracing fellow Muslims after the Eid prayers in Bangkok. Why that picture was printed at all was a matter of some puzzlement to me.

In one of the waiting rooms for patients, I saw a former Minister and his wife, waiting patiently to see the doctor, the Minister looking a bit forlorn and unhappy in the anonymity of a foreign land. I decided to do my good deed for the day by recognising the ex-Minister, and when I nodded in recognition, his face immediately lit up with a special glow of self-importance. My good deed was done, and we chatted for a while, until he said, “This is an excellent hospital, very good system. We come here often.”

Time for a bad deed, I thought. Do I dare, do I dare, I asked myself again. The fact that the man was only an ex-Minister, made the act easier, and so I dared. “So why didn't you do something about the system when you were in power and a Minister? I voted for you.” Luckily for both of us, fate intervened in the form of the nurse who took us in to see the doctor. It is not often that you meet an ex-Minister in such ordinary and vulnerable circumstances and can ask such embarrassing questions with impunity.

But the question was not quite fair, I think, particularly because the poor ex-Minister had nothing to do with the medical system. That is a question one could ask more appropriately to the leader of emerging “third force,” Professor Dr. Badruddoza. He could have indeed made a very significant contribution to the health services during his two decades in politics and quite a few years in power, and he didn't. His reputation as a doctor was formidable, and it is as a doctor that he really could have made a difference for the nation, and he didn't. Instead we are now going to import hospitals from Kolkata and Bangkok. This is indeed good news for those who have to go abroad for treatment. The Bangladeshis who lost their lives in the fire in Bangkok would have lived if they did not have to go abroad.

When Professor Badruddoza was asked to give up his position as the President of Bangladesh, he went without a whimper. Now emerging from his cave as a toothless tiger after two years of hibernation, he comes up with a “vision” of a third force for the nation. We waited with bated breath for details of the vision, but his diagnosis of the ills of the nation at an iftar party in Sheraton was utterly ordinary. Who in Bangladesh does not know about the corruption, the law and order situation and spiralling food prices? Ask any man on the street, and he will tell you the same thing with more real knowledge, more force, and more credibility. Professor Badrudozza's treatment for the maladies of the nation was equally pedestrian and vapid. It is treatment like this that makes us run to doctors and hospitals abroad, if we can afford it.

Newspapers are now abuzz with news of this new “third force” phenomenon galvanising our civil society. There are many veteran third-forcers who have been trying for years to bring about a change and compared to them Professor B is just an old new-kid in the block. Understandably most of them are critical of this parvenu who has been so long in politics that he can no longer be part of the civil society that he hopes to lead. It is always exciting to have a third force in politics, used as we are a traditional two-horse situation, but a third force which is little more than a spent force does not give us much hope.

A sound physician can a demi-god; an unsound politician can often turn out to be a clown. Unless, of course, the third force that he spearheads is backed by a fourth force, in which case, we have to sit up and listen to him more carefully.



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