Pramod Subbaraman discusses the importance of a work/life balance and how poetry helped him navigate his way through the pandemic.
I would normally have started a piece in a dental or even non-dental magazine with the sentence: ‘I am an NHS dentist’ with NHS and dentist serving as forms of identity. This comes as second nature to many people.
We identify ourselves with our jobs or professions, and the response to ‘what do you do?’ sounds like a response to ‘who are you?’ The year of COVID-19 has made us all take a step back and reflect.
Life or careers for many of us may never be the same again, and much as I wish that the disruption did not happen because of what it has done to our patient population. I am thankful for that reflect and reset option. Fellow associates working within the NHS contract in England will acknowledge the pressure we were under pre-pandemic.
We were in fibrillation and we have been delivered a shock to stop. When we restart, we will hopefully make a better dental world than the one we endured before the shock was delivered.
What do you get up to in your spare time away from dentistry?
I did not have much spare time pre-pandemic as I worked long hours every week. I had many six or even seven-day working weeks, when you take into account my out-of-hours work and the MA in dental law and ethics degree that I was studying for.
The work hours have changed a lot during this pandemic year and I have shelved the course until the spring of 2021 (it could get deferred further too depending on the pandemic situation). Now I have some time on my hands.
My four-year-old son takes up a lot of that time, and I am learning to live with my type 2 diabetes diagnosis and the necessary lifestyle changes that it will require.
I have also this year returned to poetry after a significant absence. Some of my poems have been accepted/published in print and online in the UK and the USA since August 2020.
My wife and I have also increased our time at the allotment. As a result, we have not needed the supermarkets for vegetables for several months!
Are you a foodie?
Yes and no. I don’t have to try absolutely everything on every menu and I don’t have to eat out all the time.
But I do like to cook and experiment with new foods. Although I’ve had times in my life when I have eaten many life forms, I am now mainly a plant-based eater with some milk and milk products (it’s almost impossible to separate a south Indian from his yoghurt!).
South Indian cuisine is different from what you get in the ‘Indian’ restaurants and takeaways in the UK. It would need a whole other essay to explain this and I may do so in a future article.
Are you into any sport?
Quite like the vast majority of people from and in India, the default choice is cricket. But I must admit that I now have very little interest in sport. This happened when I moved to the UK in late 2005 and lived like a hermit for a few years with no access to TV.
Once I learned to live without entertainment, I noticed the great amount of time packed into every 24-hour period and I have not been concerned about the absence of sport or other entertainment since. They are now optional extras and not must haves.
What kind of television/movies do you like?
Current affairs and politics. But I would be expected to say that as I have been a parliamentary candidate twice when I lived in Scotland and I have contributed to policy groups and papers, especially on race relations and equality. I consume a lot of Tamil popular culture, especially comedy movies – I watch English language movies too, but not as many or as often as I once did.
I must have seen every episode of the sitcoms Friends, Frasier, and of the political drama West Wing several times. Please, just please do not ask a south Indian: ‘Do you watch Bollywood?’ ever!
And while we are on that, could we rename the BBC Asian network to the BBC Hindi/Punjabi/Urdu network? It represents no one else from south Asia, let alone the rest of Asia.
Do you like travel?
Not a big fan because of the hassle involved, but that could be strange coming from someone who in his 43 years has moved from Tiruchirapalli to Bangalore, to Bombay, to Palakkad, to Bangalore again, to King’s Lynn, to Birmingham, to Middlesbrough, to Hull, to Stirling, to Edinburgh and to Hull again!
I must admit that my wife and I went through a phase when we visited whisky distilleries for several years, that it partly influenced our move to Scotland, and that we have amassed a significant collection of single malts.
Why is it important to have hobbies away from your profession?
This year, my poetry has given me something better than anything that the pharmaceutical industry could ever produce for mental health. Being BAME, vitamin D deficient, overweight, and type 2 diabetic, I felt very vulnerable as the evidence around COVID-19 emerged. I could not have coped but for the poetry, which I read and I wrote.
Every dental team member has had issues with mental health at some time or another. The pandemic may have been the one time when it affected most of us at the same time. That should serve as a reminder that we are not what we do for a living.
It brings me back to the question I pondered over at the beginning of this article. We are much more than the roles we serve in the workplace, in our families, or in society. Each of us needs to determine for ourselves who we are when there are no other constraints on us. It is important to achieve a work/life balance and the right mix is different for each person.
Let us hope that the post-pandemic world will be a better one for us. But keep in mind that it is up to us to build that world.
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