A Middle Class Professional Could Joyfully Consume Less, Comfortably Save More, Share Liberally & Be In Activism. A Lived Experience

Dr PS Sahni

Early this year it was learnt that after 17 years of its existence Countercurrents.org (CC) – which has performed a stellar and useful role – was on the verge of closure. There was said to be a shortfall of Rs. 4 lakhs (USD 6000/- approx.) for its minimal requirement of Rs. 10 lakhs (USD 14,000). And that, too, just for its bare survival! One still does not know how the Editor, Binu Mathew, the other team members and their families at CC survive. Binu left his regular job as a journalist to devote full time to CC. The team continues to work passionately with revolutionary zeal working in a non-funded way. A ‘no advertisements’ policy ensures greater independence; hence CC can speak the truth to the powers that be. Besides donations too are needed for launch of its new book publication venture.

A Personal Account

As someone who has strived to live a life away from a ‘moribund commercial existence’, I wish to share a few personal things about how one lived and worked in the last four decades. After working as an Orthopaedic Surgeon at the three best government hospitals in Delhi I had given up the idea of trying to be in regular government service after the 1984 genocide of Sikhs in Delhi and other parts of India. One found it difficult to strive to work under a government which perpetrates mass crimes against humanity.

The other option of being in commercial practice was equally unacceptable as I found it difficult to ‘take money’ (consultation fee) from the suffering patients. I had Rs. 26,000/- in my savings account when I left the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi at age 33 years. I used this money for my own personal needs while working voluntarily amongst the 1984 victims of anti-Sikh violence; this money lasted for all of 26 months during which I was not earning a penny. I became a pauper!

I had the advantage of staying in my parent’s house, where I had a room (and still have). I could look after my father and mother in their old age till their death in the years 2000 and 2002 respectively. Having a room to myself was a big support as I had only to work part time (one hour per day) to finance my daily bread. Being unmarried and without having any adopted child helped me live with small means. This got necessitated as taking funds from any agency (Indian or foreign) or the government was not an acceptable proposition. So for the first fifty years of my life I did not earn more than Rs. 1800/- per month. Yet I easily managed to be actively involved in campaigns/movements as availability of time was on my side. The right to socially useful semi-employment got practiced. The work undertaken by the two organizations with which one was actively involved can be glimpsed at:

About the co-workers and the different campaigns one was associated with since the 1980s the same may be glimpsed at:

One used the services of public libraries; organizational meetings were held in public parks/coffee houses as we could never afford office space. One’s wants were few for a middle class professional. Clothes – mainly second hand – were purchased from vendors on footpaths. Cheap street food looked after our nutritional needs. Public transport or long walks for work ensured a fair economic and even physical health. I have never purchased a wrist watch or mobile phone till date or for that matter any gadget; not even fridge, t.v., laptop, AC, private vehicle. The two organizations I continue to work with allow me to use computer facilities. Till date all activist documents/ reports we have produced are sold at “no profit no loss” basis.We have shooed away commercial publishers who approached us on a few occasions for ‘mainstreaming’ few of these publications. A nephew of mine who has spent years in USA and has worked for a decade with GE company once angrily accused me while pointing a finger at me thus: “It is people like you who are responsible for the double dip recession in USA!” He once offered to gift me a personal computer in mid 1990s but I refused. I write in long hand. I have a fixed line phone connection at home; one uses it for emergency purposes only – not more than a few calls per year!!! Yes. Perhaps five or six per year. Preference is for postcards and meeting people in person. I have never been abroad; but have compensated this loss by reading for hours in public libraries which do not charge any user-fee!

However in the last 18 years one’s income has gradually skyrocketed to a princely sum of Rs. 20,000/- per month – the highest one has earned till date at age 68 years plus. 50% of this is saved; rest is used for paying charges for water, electricity, fixed line phone, house-tax, food, clothes and public transport. I hand wash my clothes of daily use as also curtains, bed sheets, table clothes; small repair of clothes I am able to do by myself. For other repair work I visit a Muslim tailor sitting on pavement in old Delhi; he is one of the best human beings I have met in my life. I prepare my evening meal at home and hand wash the utensils myself.  I am not insured for anything like health, life etc. If I fall ill I pay through my savings. In January, 2017 I suffered a life threatening heart attack but managed to survive. Now my heart functions at 45% capacity. During my stay in intensive care unit and later in general ward at the hospital my colleague and close associate Shobha Aggarwal would smuggle in her smart phone. The only thing that I have learnt on this gadget is doing ‘Google search’. I would browse through articles in CC and Sheshu Babu’s comments on umpteen articles. This reading brought sanity to my heart which would otherwise at times go berserk into ectopic beats. Up to 9000 heart beats would become irregular in a 24 hour period; the risk being of heart beating extremely fast (ventricular tachycardia) and then eventual death. No medicines seemed to work except reading Countercurrents.org which elicited a normal heart beat. The cardiologists advised me to undertake Angiography to be followed by surgery viz Angioplasty/ Bypass surgery. I refused. What helped me save money (about Rs. 3 to 5 lakhs at one go) on these useless and dangerous procedures was the fact that right in 2004 I had prepared a document – handwritten and unpublished till date – titled:

“Why I will never undertake Angiography, Angioplasty, Bypass surgery in the event of a heart attack”.

The morbidity and mortality rates are the same after a heart attack whether or  not you undertake these investigations and surgeries. A few daily medicines alone are enough.

Through word of mouth this document got shared and people who approached us were able to steer clear of the thugs in allopathy who coerced patients to undertake these unnecessary investigations and surgery for heart attacks. During my own stay in ICU, I was warned that my time is up; initially I was given 48 hours, then a month as my survival time. Later a few years of life have been assured by way of prognosis.

After my discharge from hospital I had prepared a small will/wish including inter alia a donation of Rs. 100,000/- (USD 1400/-) to CC. I had requested Shobha to do the needful after my exit from the (unlivable anyway) planet earth.While CC’s financial difficulties continue, contributions to its new book public venture titled ‘Imagination Unlimited’ are also needed!  I am arranging to send this amount to CC. It should reach soon. This apart I have asked my elder sister to ensure two things when life ebbs out of me; firstly to get a medical doctor to certify my death. (One has read of stories where as-yet living patients in India have been erroneously taken to crematorium and then marched back home after the mistake got detected!!!). And secondly, any two to five people may transport my mortal remains to the electric crematorium. No religious humbug to be followed; no obituary reference to be inserted in any paper. Overtime through word of mouth people who care and need to know, as also the co-workers would eventually get to know.

P.S. Dear Binu, Even if CC eventually closes down in spite of your sincere efforts do not despair. Do not let depression take the better of you. Remember a flower blooms for a day; spreads its fragrance and then withers away by sunset. I had penned this piece a year ago but K. P.Sasi’s message today i.e. 28.12.2019 at 2.06 p.m. goaded me to send this stat. Thank you K. P.Sasi.

Dr. P. S. Sahni is a member of PIL Watch Group and AIDS BhedbhavVirodhiAndolan. Email: [email protected]




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