Etiquette of being indisposed

Updated 28 Aug 2020

Email

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.
The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

There are certain things that are expected from a person who declares himself or is pronounced by those around him to be unwell. Not sure whether this includes a mandatory ban on appearing to be taking a walk or having tea after finding refuge in London but, given all the noise, there definitely are principles that a person physically not 100 per cent fit has to abide by.

In the not too distant past, a cloth tightly wrapped around the forehead of the person in charge of household operations would be a sufficient message. To the fellow beings sharing the same space with the very visibly indisposed individual, it would signal time to order food from outside as well as often an occasion to offer an apology for past excesses committed. For any guests in sight of the grim, stern reminder, this was a summary order to pack their bags and make a dash for the first train out of town.

At other times and in other situations, persons designated as ill were, and still quite often are, required to moan and wince their way into the hearts of those calling on them. The ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ and screams are an essential part of the beemar culture so integral to our social life. But for this aspect of our routine, our interaction would be reduced by at least 35pc — the other 65pc taken up by funerals and weddings that we must be a part of.

In case the patient is too feeble to make the requisite noises on their own, the responsibility may be delegated to a dependable close relative — so long as the relative can be trusted with the soiled currency bills some visitors may insist on thrusting under the sick soul’s potentially infectious bedding in pursuance of convention.

The ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ are an essential part of the ‘beemar’ culture so integral to our social life.

You must have been witness to cases in which even doctors give more weight to what an attendant to a patient has to tell them instead of the patients’ own accounts. In some rare cases, this could lead to difficult situations — such as in a recent instance when my cousin, a patient, refused to be treated by a doctor, accusing him of taking undue, unwarranted and absolutely blood pressure-soaring interest in his attractive wife, a mere attendant in this instance.

Panicked relatives are considered central to good treatment in hospitals in Pakistan, and especially effective are the most impatient ones who are sold on the idea of using physical force to get the best possible deal for their patients. But do the same standards apply to the affluent class as well — those whose members can afford to go abroad for treatment? What antics do they have to resort to, to show the biradari that they are really and truly ill?

Former rulers are quite a privileged class, and among the lucky ones able to escape the commercial circus that Pakistani hospitals can turn into at the drop of a pulse or sugar level. But their health files may regularly have their origins in the register of a local doctor. The highest ranking among these are able to avoid the local lockup altogether, like Gen Pervez Musharraf. For the rest of these former rulers, quite often the journey begins inside a prison cell — with a tendency of symptoms of old illnesses suddenly reappearing. And health may return with a return to power, or even so much as the promise of it.

More than 12 years later, I still remember a naughty reception an Urdu write-up gave Mr Asif Ali Zardari even on an occasion as solemn as his return to Pakistan at the tragic departure of his wife, Ms Benazir Bhutto. The writer was floored at the unexpectedly good physical shape Mr Zardari was in, after all those back-breaking rumours had projected him as a long-persecuted man barely able to walk.

The writer was not only overjoyed to note that Mr Zardari was able to walk without a stick, he also expressed pleasant surprise that there was no ambulance present to receive the worthy future president. The energy was oozing as the PPP leader found the crucial will, both personal and hereditary, to firmly take over the party’s reins.

Today, in their desperation to win against an opponent without further prolonging the fight, the government camp is making a serious error. It is searching Mian Nawaz Sharif for signs similar to those the aforementioned writer was unable to find in Mr Zardari.

To his credit, Mr Zardari lets his party members — who easily double as family members — raise the customary noise about his current ill health, choosing as per his contention to not speak about these personal matters himself. Mian Shahbaz Sharif, on the other hand, has been repeatedly asserting his position over age 69, and his status as a cancer survivor.

Mian Nawaz does finally manage to match Mr Zardari when he keeps away from the highly informative and scientific debate led by Dr Yasmin Rashid and Mr Fayyaz Chohan about his platelet level. Which leaves his close relatives as suspects, who may be responsible for not doing enough for him to maintain his privileged status of a person who is unwell and deserving of special treatment.

The ministers in Imran Khan’s cabinet have a political need to fulfil when they seek to silence the Sharif threat whenever the PML-N shows any inclination of revitalising the Nawaz-Maryam plank of the party. The PML-N wants Mian Sahib back as an active player in Pakistani politics, before the PTI calls out that they want him back and behind bars as a convict.

In accordance with the provisions of the old register of the ailing, the PTI insists that the PML-N must resign itself to the certified physical condition of Mian Sahib and stay away from all business other than his medical treatment. Alternatively, the PML-N must be prepared to face the consequences that are the fate of a healthy convict. Now, is this too difficult to understand?

The writer is Dawn’s resident editor in Lahore.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2020