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Bicycle chiefs

While Mr LK Advani, Mr Modi et al prepare to go on yatras that will help them slay their enemies of choice, I mean, spread peace and honesty, a diminutive cinematographer and a doctor are about to start a yatra of their own. On September 26, Pooja Sharma and TV Seshagiri will begin a journey by bicycle, from Srinagar in Kashmir, to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, to spread awareness about lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes, strokes and heart ailments, which are on the rise in a rapidly urbansing India, especially among the increasingly prosperous middle class. Along the way, Sanivini Trust will conduct free cataract camps in villages.


Illustration/  Jishu Dev Malakar

Despite the strong K factor, the bicycle rally is not funded by either Ekta Kapoor, Rakesh Roshan or Karan Johar (though who knows, that might just get them interested after all) and the duo is still looking for support, details of which are on the Facebook page for the K2K Cycling trip as it is called.

Lazy people like me (at whom this awareness is targeted) are always awed by such undertakings. The idea of anyone cycling 3,600 kilometres is fearsome and impressive. The idea that people will do something outside of their professional concerns is something to celebrate. Most of us remain within comfortable political habits of following others and rarely initiate something ourselves, so it's definitely inspiring to hear about people who do just that.

That said, I often wonder precisely how such things raise awareness. I mean it would certainly be inspiring to see people set an example of exactly what they're suggesting you do -- exercise more to stay well. Yet, can something like this really change bad habits? Pooja Sharma, plans to film their entire trip, so I'm hoping we can get some understanding of it from the documentary that emerges -- because also, while I'm not sure that films change the world, there's no doubt that they do deepen our understanding of things.

While it seems a relatively small thing, this endeavour throws up scary thoughts about the medical system. Our present lifestyles, while bringing new and sometimes welcome pleasures, have also meant the disappearance of a certain frugality and carefulness of the pre-liberalisation era including all those starchy slogans like Prevention is Better than Cure. It's a slogan worth holding on to given the state of our healthcare system. Hospitals are increasingly privatised which is synonymous with profit driven not health care driven.

Thirty seven private hospitals in Delhi were given land at concessional rates in return for which they were to earmark 25 per cent of their out-patient and 10 per cent of their in-patient care as free treatment for the poor. Some of these hospitals appealed to the Delhi High Court saying this was too expensive for them. But if they wanted to operate completely without public responsibility then they should have bought commercial land, surely?

The Supreme Court recently instructed these hospitals to fulfill the conditions. Of course we live in a system with plenty of wriggle room, but if the hospitals can't wriggle enough, any guesses how they'll make up the loss of profit?

Meanwhile the public healthcare system is so unfriendly to patients, so unattractive to new doctors, so overloaded, that it's one more painful reminder of how nightmarish it is to be poor in our country.
With the figure of the doctor as someone you can trust with your life, becoming as shadowy as those bygone slogans, we may perhaps have no choice but to take responsibility for our own health --A Stitch in Time Saves Nine after all.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at http://www.parodevi.com/.

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.

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