"Are you the patient who wrote a letter of appreciation to our medical director 21 years ago?" asked a nurse in a starched, white uniform. She had spotted me in a wheelchair in the hospital lobby. I was there for a check-up and waiting to go home. I smiled as I placed her. "How are you sister Bharti? Yes, I had lauded your team's efforts."
In 1991, I had spent three weeks in the hospital in Mumbai, getting my heart refurbished. Being cocooned from the world, my life revolved around nurses and ward boys those days. They became my family. Deepak, the ward boy, worked at the hospital in the day and rushed to a night school so that he could graduate one day. Sister Maria nursed the sick and sent money to her elderly parents in Kerala. Sister Rita from Andhra Pradesh worked long nights, ensuring we took our medications, so that she could support her younger brother studying in a village school.
I was impressed with the dedication of their team leader, Bharti. Every morning she would arrive with her team in neat, white uniforms to check how we had fared at night. Some patients had suffered so they moaned, but Bharti was always cheerful. She was a mother and travelled two hours to work daily. Yet she was always cheerful. Her radiance alleviated our pain and accelerated our recovery. "You are not a nurse, you are a garden of smiles," I remember telling her.
When I left the hospital, I wrote to the medical director, commending the selflessness of the staff. Bharti hadn't forgotten this gesture even two decades on.
I often wonder why we are reluctant to appreciate the contribution of others. It costs nothing to praise someone but the compliment can spur a person to greater achievement. We are quick to criticise indifferent service but rarely offer a word of appreciation if the service is commendable.
Talking of appreciation, I am reminded of the plight of daughters-in-law in middle-class joint families. They often feel unappreciated. Some 15 years ago, I initiated a "best daughter-in-law prize" in my housing complex. Every year, we awarded a trophy and a certificate to a daughter-in-law proficient at managing her home, family and career. The award is now a coveted one.
Returning to Bharti, she told me, "The hospital liked the letter you wrote in 1991 and displayed it on the notice board. It spurred me to do better and I decided to study further in Europe. I am now specialised in managing patients suffering from Parkinson's disease." For Bharti, a simple nurse, mother and wife, to specialise in the Netherlands was a triumph. It is heartening to see people surpass themselves, overcome circumstances and excel in their field of endeavour.
Organisations should be more appreciative of their employees. Most companies spend millions wooing potential users. They forget that their employees are their first customers. Happy employees will serve the consumers with passion. Two forces propel most employees: gold and glory or financial benefit and recognition. Organisations may not be able to lavish bonuses in a world gripped by recession; but nothing stops them from being generous in gratitude.
Perhaps, bountiful appreciation rather than harsh austerity measures by governments and corporations will generate the energy among ordinary citizens to heave the global economy out of the current sludge.