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HAPPIMESS BY BISWAJIT BANERJI

From BAD To SORDID

One of my office colleagues is stricken with a disease that pokes and torments but is kind enough not to kill.

Mr. Das suffers from the most peculiar inability to decide which foot to advance first for commencing a walk and racks his brains all day pondering on whether to begin with the right or the left.

The scourge goes by the name of ‘Bipedal Advancement Dilemma’ (BAD), the last recorded case of which dates back to the nineteenth century.

BAD had struck for the very first time at a most inopportune moment, when Mr. Das was about to appear for an interview linked to his promotion. He was overlooked for a higher position last year and was determined to make the cut now.

“May I come in Sir?” Mr. Das was ready and all pumped-up to take on the interview panel.

“Yes Mr. Das, come in please.”

Mr. Das was about to step inside when he was besieged by a massive doubt that had never crossed his mind before. It concerned the question as to how people actually moved forward on their feet – did they start with the right foot? or the left one? He wondered why he had never felt the pressing need to deliberate on this all-important existential issue earlier but now that it had caught his attention, it was indeed a sacred duty for him to try and resolve it.

“Mr. Das, we’re getting late.”

Mr. Das paid only a scant attention to the call and remain fixed in his determination not to budge until he had satisfactorily negotiated his momentous doubt. For a clue, he looked around with hope to see if anyone was just about to start on his legs. But all he noticed was a long row of tables occupied by a world that was happy to just sit down and fiddle with the computer keys. 

“What’s the matter with you, Mr. Das?” one of the interviewers was leaning out of the door, smitten by curiosity.

Mr. Das had a general liking for inquisitive people. The thirst for knowledge, he believed, was ultimately responsible for taking the world forward. But he hated being pestered at a time when he was completely engrossed in tackling a monumental question. He was furious and quite inclined to pluck the interview-panel member out of the room, drag him aside and smack him up. It was only the prospect of the promotion that stopped him from carrying out his noble mission.

Nevertheless, Mr. Das felt cornered and ring-fenced by a world that was decisively closing in on him. He had only a split second to decide and settle on his next move. It was only a moment earlier that he had almost put out his right foot forward as a matter of instinct. Thanks to his indecisiveness, the move got aborted and he was glad for that because the stupid world was never really going to realise the grave fallouts of any move beginning with the wrong foot.

What about a Hop-step-and-jump? It was a kind of movement, Mr. Das reckoned, that required the use of both his feet at once and spared him the agony of prioritizing his steps. It was indeed the perfect fit for the moment and he didn’t wait any further. It required exactly three clean hops from him to cover the length of the room and reach the interview panel. With each hop, Mr. Das had gained on momentum and he badly panted for breath and staggered like a drunkard on the final landing.

The interview panel had never faced such a dangerously ‘flying’ object before.

The member, closest to Mr. Das and most susceptible to bear the brunt of his flight, was absolutely certain that he had but only a few breaths left to live and enjoy life. One look at the ferocious intent etched on Mr. Das’s face had convinced him of that. He was not afraid to die. After all what is life? only a flickering flame of uncertainty. As an interviewer, what appeared as worse than death to him was the lost opportunity to fire questions at Mr. Das for which he had practiced so hard day and night. He had, in his student days, enjoyed particularly strained relationship with books and considered the teaching staff as a gang of plotters, guilty of smearing spotless and angelic brains with the muck of knowledge. He had carried that persecution complex into the adult state as well and was determined to torture anyone who veered into his line of fire, Mr. Das in this case.

The second member was practical and combative. He had ducked under the table, waiting and eager to hit back with whatever office stationery he could lay his hands on.

The third one had taken to his heels and landed straight at the security counter for help.

Finally Mr. Das found himself pinned down by the guards and transported out to the hospital. Thankfully, the administration did not call the police in view of the long-standing reputation of Mr. Das as a sincere employee.

Mr. Das didn’t believe the doctors when they said he had psychiatric problems. The doctors did not believe Mr. Das when he accused them of having psychiatric problems themselves. After a protracted rough and tumble, the doctors gave way to finally announce the incidence of BAD.

In the early stages of BAD, Mr. Das was able to resolve his mighty dilemma in an hour or two but as the case worsened, he took more time, extending to days, weeks and months, until he failed to solve the puzzle altogether. Since then he has been consigned to the wheelchair. Mr. Das is understandably frustrated and yet proud of the frustration, having landed up something that belongs, after all, to a “one-in-a-trillion” variety.

It is not that he hasn’t tried hard for a cure.

Allopathy works but it is the incurable side-effects of the drugs that steal the show and bring more misery in their wake.

In homeopathy, it is the case of a one-way aggravation with a constant assurance to the contrary that the aggravation is a sure sign of cure that’s just around the corner which never arrives.

Ayurveda partly works, with side-effects known only to the ancient sages who devised the therapeutic system. It also comes with a severely restrictive dietary regimen designed precisely to precipitate a divorce and force you into celibacy so that the medicines can work better.

Yoga robs a good night’s sleep, inducing tension in the mind to rise early for a work-out and unnecessarily causes pain in the human joints not designed to withstand animal poses. As far as spirituality is concerned, it is only a euphemism for refined insanity. It may even lead to death from terribly dashed hopes when the wicked world does not seem to care a hoot about the spiritualist’s dreams to start a sweeping moral revolution.

Rare as the disease is, Mr. Das is supposedly a prized catch for the medical fraternity from across the globe.  Celebrated doctors and researchers have been arriving in droves in our city to have a look at him, talk to him and try to misunderstand his problem. There are times when he is literally mobbed by them so that, to someone unaware of the situation, Mr. Das may appear to be a celebrity, commanding a social following in prolific proportions.

“So, Mr. Das, you are having BAD, quite sad, you know!” the visiting foreign doctor tries to empathize.

“It’s all god’s wish,” Mr. Das replies in a tone of equanimous gratitude with folded hands.

 “Oh! I see,” the doctor is pretty disappointed not to find any element of disappointment in the reply.

“What are the initial symptoms you experienced?” he reads out from a prepared questionnaire.

Mr. Das smiles and signals to the man standing by his side. He steps in to tell the visiting doctor that Mr. Das charges a fee for giving interviews.

“Oh! how much is that?”

“Ten dollars per question.”

“Come on! This is plain fleecing man. Too high!”

“Ok, nine point five. Can’t go below that.”

Meanwhile  Mr. Das can’t really believe what good time he is having inspite of BAD.

He is a globetrotter now, in his wheelchair of course, on invitations from renowned medical universities and research institutes from across the world. He smilingly submits to the weirdest of diagnostic tests customised specifically for him and has lately assumed the demeanour of suave, condescending celebrities. He freely converses in several foreign languages and connects with the audience with great elan and ease. Of late he has started making presentations on the experience of his disease and charges fat fees for his appearances. He has sent his son abroad to a top business school and has booked a posh pool-side villa and has, to his credit, several offers to settle abroad.

It is indeed some sight to behold when Mr. Das lands in the office in his microprocessor controlled, voice-driven, imported wheelchair. Donated by a foreign charitable institution, the chair has classy leather upholstery and it is no wonder that I have spotted one or two of my colleagues regularly giving it a try whenever Mr. Das relinquishes it for a brief journey to the toilet. The manner in which they close their eyes in comfort and make themselves cosy, excitedly tinkering with the LED panels over the arm-rests like impatient children, points to a sublime degree of satisfaction.

Mr. Das is contemplating resignation from the job but the boss is not willing to release him.

“Why do you want to resign?” the boss asks.

“Sir, I’m too busy these days and can’t really attend office regularly.”

“Who is asking you to attend office regularly? The whole organization knows about your problem and we all sympathize with you. After all we are human beings, you see. Don’t bother about the monthly attendance, I’ll take care.”

“But still ….”

“Still what? Come on Das, aren’t you happy with the offer?”

I suspect that the boss’s magnanimity has everything to do with his own personal issue. His son is terrible in studies but nevertheless harbours an obscene ambition to acquire a degree in medicine from abroad. The boss is sitting fat on cash but it’s just that the admission tests are no match for his son’s prolific ignorance. Under the circumstance, he expects Mr. Das to tap his foreign medical contacts and manufacture some kind of opportunity for his son. He does not forget to tell Mr. Das that he is very benign and accommodating and if a proper medical degree is not possible, he is even ready to settle for much less like a diploma in geriatric andrology or feminine allergology.

I have often caught several of my colleagues staring vacantly at their own feet and mumbling in solitude. I am sure they all are jealous of Mr. Das and have been cursing their own damn legs for being so healthy and sure-footed. Now, except for trips meant to answer calls of nature, they secretly hate all activities involving their feet including their morning walks and jogs. They all agree in private that if at all one is destined to have a disease, it should be a rare one, a sort of show-stopper, like something which Mr. Das has, and not the stupid commonplace ones they are afflicted with.

Another colleague of mine considers herself blessed and mighty fortunate to have cornered something that is equally rare and spectacular. The whole office wants to fall all over and congratulate her on the achievement and the potentially bright prospects of the disease.

Actually it has been a hard fought victory of sorts for Mrs. Paul. When she first fainted in the midst of a fit of laughter induced by a televised laughter show, she was sure in her mind to have landed something substantial and incurable but the doctors took it as a one-off event caused by an accidental chocking in the windpipe.

For Mrs. Paul, it was a heartbreaking letdown.

Her initial excitement gave way to a state of bitter disappointment that instilled in her a deep dislike for anything that was funny. She avoided watching laughter shows on television and tried to forbid family-members from doing so either. If at all she did watch one, she absolutely flew off the handle when someone in the family laughed out loud or even dropped the faintest hint of mirth. But the members in the family, especially the ladies, had grown so fondly accustomed to the shows that even the mere thought of missing those made them suffer from terrible anxieties and physiological symptoms like general loss of appetite and indigestion. However they did not want Mrs. Paul to take offence too, being a venerable senior member of the family as she was.

As a result, during the laughter shows, whenever Mrs. Paul was around, the family members were forced to don cloaks of dignified sobriety, quite far-removed from an audience pining for a good and hearty laugh. But soon the jokes and the acts on the screen would be too hilarious to really allow wearing a poker face and the children were the first one to crack.  They tittered and the adults would quickly move on to sober them up. But they ended up tittering themselves and in order to appear somber, would try and put on the most awkward facial contortions to smother their own laughter. That made them look more comical than ever and the children immediately broke into wide-mouthed giggles and the grown-ups dropped their guards too and a rapturous wave of high-pitched expression of mirth would sweep across the room. Unable to stand the laugh-riot, Mrs. Paul would angrily leave, vowing never to enter the room again.

Her disappointment did not last long because very soon, she was rewarded with another fainting-fit. She was sitting with her cocker spaniel on the couch when the creature slid over and cuddled close to her. Mrs. Paul was not in the mood and tried to fend it off, but the dog tickled her hard by poking its soft, moist nose into the body. That made her laugh and the dog was excited to see her laugh and tickled her more. She laughed more till she turned hysterical and then she suddenly doubled up and collapsed. Mrs. Paul was subjected to a flurry of tests but unfortunately for her, the reports came out perfectly normal.

It was a sure signal that something extraordinary, impervious to the diagnostic scrutiny, had cast its shadow over her. The doctors smelled a rat and decided to convey the gravity of the matter to Mrs. Paul.

 “I am sorry but I suspect you have a dreadful disease, most probably SORDID. We are not quite sure at this stage. You have to go for confirmatory tests.”

 “What on earth does SORDID mean?” Mrs. Paul was dying to know.

“Symptom of Obstructive Recurrent Delight-Induced Dyspnea.”

It sounded gorgeously impressive to Mrs. Paul. “Thank you, thank you so much!” she said, shaking the doctor’s hands with unusual warmth and then off she went in mad excitement, leaving the doctor to wonder if he had ever seen a patient who was more gracious in accepting misfortune.

As Mrs. Paul proudly narrates the morbid properties of her disease in the office, she faces a group of people with concealed jealousy in their eyes signifying how they envy the prospective growth trajectory of another one of their own colleagues.

Mrs. Paul, on many occasions, has tried to wrest from Mr. Das, a few secret recipes for successful internationalization of her disease, but he seems reluctant and has proved to be a tough nut to crack. She has decided not to prod him any further and vows that she will show the world what Mr. Das can do, she can do it better.

Meanwhile another one of my office colleagues is being medically investigated for having developed a strange addiction for old and tattered files, so much so that he refuses to go home, sleeps comfortably on those, happily eats quite a few reams of file notings everyday, claims to have normal bowel movement and feels healthy and energetic like never before.

I have applied for an urgent departmental transfer and pursuing the matter in all seriousness.

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