I WAS waiting in the room for attendants while my elder sister was in the operation theatre of a well-known eye clinic in Dhanmondi for a cataract operation. There were CCTVs installed in the waiting area to watch the operation. My sister’s operation was at the end of a three operation cycle, which meant a waiting period of nearly two hours. There was also a TV set in the room where a match in the Bangladesh Premier League, the BPL, was being telecast live It was the match between Chittagong Vikings and Durunto Rajshahi. I started watching when Chittagong was one wicket down at 100 with 10 overs left. The Vikings appeared set to reach 200. A good number of the hospital staff, five in all, were also watching the match but busy placing bets on what score Chittagong would reach. The bets began at 175 and started going down as Chittagong began losing wickets in a hurry. These staff members were so absorbed with their betting that they could not care less where they were and that there were individuals like me who were waiting for the operation of close relatives on the CCTV.
Naturally, we were all tense, all except these five gamblers. And the match would have helped us relax if these gamblers were not betting loudly on the match. Also that morning, the newspaper had carried the story that I had read and I am sure most of the other attendants too, that a young university student, who had tried to interfere and stop gambling in an open place at Badda on a match of the BPL, was killed by the gamblers. Therefore, I was very upset and irritated that these hospital employees were openly gambling and, that too, inside a hospital and with a match about which they had no knowledge.
This group was betting with great devotion and commitment that I am certain they do not have for their responsibilities in the hospital by the way they were betting so openly at a time when they should have been attending to their work. As I sat there, many things from cricket to hospitals to doctors and patients went through my mind. I became more tensed when my niece, a professor of architecture at Ashanullah University of Engineering and Technology, wanted to know how her mother, touching 80, was doing alone waiting so long to be taken to the operation table. I then remembered an experience a few years ago in a hospital where my mother-in-law was having a heart operation.
My mother-in-law was in the operation theatre of one of the top hospitals in Dhaka, admiringly called the five-star hospitals. My brother-in-law was an owner of the hospital and his partners were also his childhood friends and they too were there for the operation. We watched that operation from an area outside the operation theatre through a glass panel. The top management of the hospital was also in attendance including the top heart specialist of the hospital whose deputy was my mother in law’s surgeon. He was on stand-by just in case he was needed!
I remembered that top doctor for two reasons. He was following the operation closely and attentively on a desktop screen. The operating surgeon was stuck in one of the arteries because it had hardened. The top doctor was worried telling us that the patient would need a by-pass that had us all worried because we did not want my mother-in-law to have a heart bypass and prayed that she would be fine with stenting. Then suddenly the doctor went gaga as the operating doctor was able to break through the hardened artery. He told us that ‘khalamma’ (my mother in law) would be okay with stenting. Then as we relaxed, he reminded us that patients must be running wild in his office as he was away from his office for so long.
That doctor told us another story which was the main reason why I was worried about my sister. He pointed to an empty space in a corner outside the operating theatre and told us that was the area where patients were kept on hold for about 10 minutes before they were taken inside. In those 10 minutes, patients were left without any attendant. Then nonchalantly he told us that once when a patent was brought before him for operation, he found him dead! In those 10 minutes of waiting alone, perhaps his heart could not take it any more and it gave up! My sister whose operation was not in anyway comparable to my mother-in-law’s; nevertheless, she too was also alone without any of us and with the type of attendant I saw betting like they were in a gambling ring, I could not help thinking of this doctor at the five-star hospital and what he had said.
After the Chittagong innings had ended in a collapse that none of these gamblers expected, I turned towards them and pulled them up. I told them that the doctor after whose name the hospital was named was a great eye doctor and that he had once performed an operation on a niece of mine that had saved her eye. One among the staff, who looked like the supervisor of the others, told me he had not heard of the fame of the doctor after whom the hospital was named. He and the others then meekly left the room and in the next hour or so I was in the waiting room, none returned to watch the game. I am sure they had found another TV screen in the big hospital to carry on their betting.
As I waited for my sister to come out from the operation theatre, I could see very clearly in my mind that Bangladesh that was hitherto safe from these street betting over games may not any longer remain so. The BPL’s role model the IPL has now run successfully since 2007 also because of its huge betting potentials that are still illegal in India. Nevertheless, with the quality of cricket that the IPL provides, it attracts genuine cricket fans by the droves. In addition, for the T-20 format, it helps Indian cricket tremendously with the high quality of cricket. And for the cricketers, if the IPL develops the way it is with its money-spinning potentials for the organisers and the players and betting prospects for the ordinary folks, the other formats of crickets may someday soon become history.
In the case of the BPL, its money-spinning potentials are no comparison with the IPL. So far with the current league just a few matches into the season, the quality of cricket has been poor. The league has not attracted big foreign players and many are playing that Bangladesh cricket fans have to google to find who they are. And the little quality cricket so far has been from the foreign players while the Bangladeshi players, the stars, and superstars included, look common by comparison. The overall poverty of the BPL is palpably evident from the fact that BPL had to recruit Gautam Bhimani and Amir Sohail as commentators. Finally, the BPL appears to be pastimes for the scions of the super-rich.
Seriously though, the betting now widely visible and still in the streets could develop into a dangerous virus for a densely populated country with a mass that is poor that would be very easily susceptible to such small-time gambling as the BPL is offering. The gamblers/staff in the eye hospital did nothing unusual because they see daily that those who run these hospitals, the owners, the administrators and the doctors do far worse and get away with it. Only recently, New Age reported that in a clinic, a baby was delivered through the Caesarean section but the twin was not. When the woman complained of pain, the doctor said it was a tumour that was causing the pain. A government hospital later delivered the dead twin!
The doctor in question had committed murder and the clinic as an accomplice to that horrible act. Worse than this has happened with doctors and hospitals/clinics in the past and nothing happened to the guilty because Bangladesh is the only country in the world where there are in reality no malpractice laws against doctors/hospitals and they can get away with murder. For the present though, those responsible for the country’s present and future should pay attention to the virus that BPL has infected in the Bangladesh body politic because it is still in a nascent stage and could be nipped in the bud.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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