Monday, July 28, 2014

Euthanasia - to be or not to be

After Supreme Court called for a nation-wide debate on euthanasia, there is lot of talk in the country around the issue. Given the morally ambiguous nature of euthanasia, it’s little wonder that multiple school of thoughts is emerging on it.

According to me, the Supreme Court’s suggestion for a nationwide debate is in acknowledgement of two facts. One is euthanasia has been in public discourse for many years. There is varied level of public awareness about it. Some may have a vague about about it, others may know a little more about it - that it exists in some parts of the world as an accepted practice followed when a patient is above all possibilities of survival. Awareness is not a problem.

But the other fact of the two is more interesting. If we debate euthanasia threadbare and it’s taken up by the media, more clarity will emerge and maybe the smoke around euthanasia, which gives it a sinister feel, making it something you are comfortable discussing but not accepting as a medical means which can be applied to a family member - will dissipate.   

Let us look at why we are resistant to this idea if we are aware of its existence and also accept its merit at least at an intellectual level. This idea flies in the face of the filial values we grow up with. At some level, we believe this may leave us to decide, one day, when and whether to withdraw life support to our parents, a decision which may leave us with a lifelong sense of guilt.

But this is where we are wrong. Whether life support will be withdrawn to a patient or not, is not decided by the close relations of the patient at the eleventh hour, but by the patient himself/herself when the patient is in a sound mental and physical condition to decide whether he/she would like to continue life, enduring unbearable physical pain when all possibilities of recovery are over, or terminate life by withdrawal of life support.

If someone decides to go for euthanasia, the person signs a contract called Living Will which includes such details as how and in what circumstances life support should be withdrawn, what kind of life support the person would be given, where etc. The Will may be signed by a person at any age, any time when he/she is eligible to sign a legal document.

But is it possible to foresee so many details about a health situation that is nowhere on the horizon when you are signing a Living Will?  Probably advocates of Living Will will say you are free to sign a Living Will when standing on the threshold of a treatment, a position that allows you to foresee, to a great extent, how a treatment can unfold and arrange details around it. 

Maybe but, with some health conditions, the course of a treatment may depart radically from what was envisaged before the treatment had started. Being a speculative document, how accurate can the Living Will be about a situation which it considers only hypothetically? Things become foggier if you consider the school of thought which argues that medical science is advancing every day and what is irreversible today may not be so sometime later. 

These questions would have to be considered very carefully before euthanasia was accepted as an alternative to continuity of life through support. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Childhood days - life and times of Satyajit Ray

Satyajit Ray’s greatness as a film director obscures us to his writing. In an earlier blog, I had reviewed a collection of short stories by Satyajit Ray. Recently I read a short, obscure autobiography of Satyajit Ray – Childhood Days. It’s not an autobiography in the conventional sense. Half of the book is about Ray’s childhood, about his family, his aunts, uncles, school days and so on. The other half is about his experience of film making, making of various films he made, explained mainly for the uninitiated reader.  

The book was first published in Sandesh, a magazine Ray edited and his family members contribute to, in episodic bursts. Many had shown interest in translating it into English but Ray refused. Later Penguin took it up and the result was this book. The first half of the book takes you to the Calcutta of the 30s and 40s in which Ray grew up. Ray had a legion of interesting relatives so it makes for interesting reading.

He had an eventful time at school – Mitra – too. There were all types of pranks played by boys. There were funny teachers. There were tensed moments. Etc.

Equally interesting are the tit bits about the India of the 30s and 40s Ray grew up in. Ray was witness to the coming of the motor car. Some of the things he says may be unimaginable today, like pamphlets being dropped by helicopters to promote products.
Cine lovers reading this book will be particularly interested in the details Ray shares about the making of various movies he made for children. (His movies on adult themes have not been included in the book.) Ray the perfectionist comes through the details. You will be surprised by the challenges involved in the process of movie making. Ray recalls many  scenes which occupied very little screen space but were very troublesome to shoot. 

The one I found most challenging and even funny was a scene from Gupi Bagha Phire Elo (Gupi and Bagha return), a sequel to Gopi Gain Bagha Bain. Ray needed to shoot a scene which would include a tiger. A person from Chennai (then Madras) contacted him and assured him that he would be able to arrange for one. Ray arrived in Chennai with his entourage and the person took him to a circus owner.

The circus owner assured him that he had a healthy tiger. After a while Ray sensed there was something wrong: A while had lapsed but the tiger hadn’t been shown. Ray demanded to see the tiger but the middle man said the tiger was all right and there was no need to see it. Ray insisted upon seeing the tiger and said he wouldn’t take the tiger for his shooting unless he saw it. Then they brought the beast. It was a mangy old cranky tiger. Ray rejected it.

That day, some search and anxiety later, they got to know about another tiger, and went to see it. This one was perfect, a young raging big cat. But that wasn’t an end to their woes.

The scene was - the tiger would play a royal guard guarding the key to royal treasury. The key would be located in a square cleft on a wall under which the tiger would sit. The hero had a special musical gift: which could freeze listeners to their spot when he sang. To take the key from the cleft, the hero would sing to the tiger putting the animal under his spell so that it couldn’t move when the hero would go and get the royal treasury key from the cleft.

The tiger had been tranquilized but as the camera started panning the tiger started to move setting up an alarm among the crew members: the effect of the tranquilizer had worn off. How much they had to go through to shoot the scene tells the reader something about the patience and improvisation film making requires.  Ray has recalled many more instances like this.

These are just the lighter aspects of the book. The serious reader may look for when and how Ray’s interest in films began. As is natural, there is no specific time, day, or year when Ray began being interested in films.

As with any artistic interest, it began slowly moving from one thing to another, small to big. As a boy Ray was interested in photography (the book as a photo of a young Satyajit with his mother taken by none but the camera itself which Ray had configured to photograph without the assistance of a human). And there was a practice of film watching – mainly foreign ones - too.

Ray has avoided delving too deep into anything to sustain the book’s light and juvenile touch. So it might disappoint those looking for a scholarly study of the great man, but those just interested to know about the world of Satyajit Ray, his family, times and influences, may not be disappointed.  
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