The twilight zone

V Pattabhi Ram

Neil sat before the doctor, wearing the conventional blue jeans and a chic t-shirt. How ironic. He was sporting attire which he would never like a doctor to sport. For long he had told anyone who mattered that casual wear robbed a professional of visible professionalism. Bankers, CA, doctors, lawyers and teachers should not be seen wearing casual while on work. Customers, clients, patients and students somehow lose trust while dealing with bankers, professionals, doctors and teachers who sport casual wear. That had been his take. Not everyone agreed with him.

Neil’s doctor was a cool customer. Always smiling, calm and courteous. But today as the doctor was sheaving through the papers Neil discerned a line cross his face. “Was not all well?” he wondered. The usual smile was missing. “You are fine,” said the doctor. “But you have to be a little careful in the future.” Even as Neil let it sink in the doctor was saying, “With proper medical care and life style alterations we can manage this.”

Neil wanted no beating about the bush. There had been signals about an impending ailment even earlier. He might as well face it. He said, “Doc, I can take it. Tell me, how many years.” The doctor had always admired Neil, the thorough bred professional bleached in innate honesty. He didn’t want to play God, but on being pushed he said, “5 years.” As he watched Neil’s face change color he remarked, “Neil we could still be very wrong on the time frame”.

Neil smiled. He knew the doc was only trying to cushion the impact. “Thank you doc. That sets the deadline for a few things that I had always wanted to do. All along I had postponed them, pressed by professional commitments. Now I shall do them”. The doc returned the smile. “You will live to achieve it Neil. Remember, every moment, every situation and every issue has a positive side”.

Wafers, waiting outside, unwittingly overheard snippets of the conversation. Her heart went out for this stranger and she admired the equanimity with which he had taken the news. He must be some 15 years older than her she thought and told herself that at a time when 85 of age was on, his was no age to fade away.

As they met for the weekend adda at the Chennai coffee pub, Wafers narrated the sequence of events to the gang. And then asked rhetorically, “What would you do if you knew you had only 5 years to live”? Rinku, the journalist, was quickly off the block, “I would first write my will.” Wafers didn’t know whether to smile or scream. China said, “He has a point.” He remembered how when his grandpa, a famous lawyer, had died intestate (!). It had created a major crisis in the family. He had then vowed that howsoever small his estate he shall always make out a will.

Muscles, the medical intern said, “I would like to do something that would leave footprints on the sands of time”. Rinku wondered, “Isn’t being a doctor good enough. That’s one profession people have the greatest admiration for”. Clearly Muscles didn’t want to be just another doctor. “I would want to do something out of the ordinary”, he said. “Like brain transplant” asked Wafers? “Maybe” said the doctor in the making.

Is there a management lesson to all this wondered Wafers? “Yup” said China. For the nth time she was stunned by China’s ability to read her mind. “A CEO if he has only X years as term would go all out to leave a legacy. Muscles chipped in, “The US President has only two terms. That pushes him to be an achiever compared to other heads of governments”.

Wafers brought the discussion back to Neil. “Should Neil not feel cheated being robbed of his best years?” “Would he not feel hurt if someone were to make some disagreeable statements with which he didn’t agree?” Muscles asked, “You mean he would wallow in self pity?” Wafers said, “Not exactly that”. It was China who put things in perspective. “He could feel cheated. Feel hurt on and off, more on than off; but he would learn to take things in the stride, positively”. Muscles added, “And if he has an understanding wife, I think he could still do pretty well”.

“China, what would you like to do if you were in Neil’s position”, asked Wafers? China thought for a second. “I would stop being aggressive. I would go out of my way to be nice, extra nice, with everyone, especially with people who have been close to me.” The argumentative Indian trying to be extra nice, wondered Wafers. And then asked, “That’s irrespective of whether they are nice to you?” China responded, “Yeah.”

“Muscles was right about leaving footprints” said China. “We must continue to dream; for life ends the moment we stop dreaming”. Muscles remarked, “Hope ends when you stop believing”. The captain at the table, taking a fresh order of wafers, pizzas and coke said, “I would share my successes and failures more liberally with people closest to me for friendship ends when you stop sharing”. Wafers pointed, “I would like to spend more time with those I haven’t had time to spend, my dad and my mom. And with a friend or two”. She added, “Maybe I would also understand or accept a few things better.” A voice from behind said, “Explain.” Wafers explained, “Like, today I have scant respect for greedy guys. But in Neil’s position I would understand human failings”.

It was then that little Muskan made a point. “If you say we would focus on friendships, relationships, be nice to people, focus on achievements etc, then why don’t we all live with the thought that we have only 5 more years to live.” Well said, thought the captain.

Neil has only five years to live. The gang discusses what they would do if placed in a similar situation. Agonize? Ignore? Make friends? Freak out? Go on the fast lane to achievement? What would you do?


About Pattabhi Ram

A chartered accountant by profession, a writer by passion and a teacher by accidental choice.
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