Monday, February 13, 2017


One step forward, two steps back
A visit to a hospital is never a pleasure, but the reason for that absence of pleasure ought to be the illness that brings a person to the hospital, not the hospital itself. Unfortunately, that isn’t how it is. A simple visit to Jinnah hospital in Lahore to get polio vaccinations before travelling was a nightmare, although illness was not the reason for the visit.
You enter the hospital via the exit gate, which, in spite of the sign appears to be the way in.
Parking at Jinnah Hospital is – I don’t believe there is a word that would adequately describe the experience. ‘Nightmare’ seems gloriously inadequate. But let me tell you, I regret not tipping the parking attendant, an amazingly good-humoured, patient man, skilled at his job. The mess that was the parking lot was not his fault. There was simply no space for the cars present. He was getting people to double-park, asking them not to leave the hand-break on, or the car in gear, so that he could push the car up or down as required. I did as he asked. There was simply no other way. I was assured there was no parking either in or out of the hospital. Mind you, I was charged for that parking. All of thirty rupees.
You wonder what could be achieved if the armed forces of Pakistan would divert some of their budget into trivial things, such as health care for the masses, instead of into expensive killing machines.
In out-patients, at the Reception desk, there was the usual herd of Pakistanis falling over each other trying to get at the Receptionist. Not a sign of a queue anywhere in sight.
In today’s world, when man has got to the moon, when communications have reached the point they have, and medical science is what it is, queues in Pakistan remain what they always were, nonexistent. It is amazing that the people of a country fail to understand that to queue is to save time. Not the other way around.
This is also how it was at a recent trip into the Punjab countryside, where a ‘tralla’, a Chingchi rickshaw and a score of cars all decided to cross a bridge, but no one was willing to leave a lane free for the traffic coming from the other side. The resultant snarl took a good twenty minutes to clear. All because this nation does not believe in queues.
There’s an interesting bit in Khalid Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’ in which Amir’s Baba says that, “There is no act more wretched than stealing – be it a life or a loaf of naan.” It is a simple truth. Even to kill someone is to steal from them, in the case of killing it is to steal their life, and to rob his/her family of a family member and his employer of a worker, and so on.
To refuse to queue is also to rob a person or several persons of their rightful turn, at a service, a product, whatever it is that is being presented at that point.
Providing health services is not easy. And it is expensive. Should it not be a priority to search for at least those aspects of a health service that can be improved without a great outlay of money?
As it so happens, teaching the public to form queues is one of those inexpensive things, and it can be implemented immediately. The other thing is to enforce a strict policy of cleanliness and against littering. It can be done. It has been done in other countries. In a hospital it is crucial. It only needs the will, and not much money.
Both these things are important. I’m not going to harp on cleanliness because everyone knows about that, particularly in the case of hospitals. Where hospital are concerned both queues and cleanliness save lives. Cleanliness for obvious reasons, and queues since it’s only when you wait your turn that everyone can be seen, without the need to push, shout, or negotiate a scrum.
The first thing is to convince hospital workers of this fact.
The second thing would be to enforce a queue at the point where it must be formed. Barriers? Personnel?
There was a time when Shahbaz Sharif as Chief Minister was obsessed with drivers not stopping their cars over the line at a red light. Traffic police had instructions to give tickets to anyone who so much as put a toe across the line. And drivers had got used to it. They didn’t put a toe across the line.
There was, and still is a rule (thank God) that marriage halls and hotel venues must end functions at 10.30 pm in Lahore. It is enforced, it is adhered to. People complained in the beginning but they’re used to it now, and they like it.
So it’s a question of enforcing this. Strictly, diligently, without exception. It won’t cost anything. And at least in a world where huge advances have been made, the people have Pakistan will have made one simple advance: they’d have learnt to form a line, and wait their turn. Because while I agree that CPEC is important, Trump is a worry, India is a pain, the Grammy’s are riveting and remittances have slipped, unless Pakistan concentrates on teaching its people this one little crucial thing, the country cannot progress. It’s like trying to write a computer software without bits and bytes.
When I came back to my car it was still unscratched. I wish I’d tipped that attendant.

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