Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Magazine article The Spectator

Second Opinion

Article excerpt

CERTAIN lines resonate in the mind forever, not necessarily because they are among the greatest ever written. When first I heard Gertrude's despairing cri de coeur, 'O Hamlet! thou hast cleft my heart in twain', I knew that it would always express for me, more succinctly than any other words ever could, the tragic irreconcilability of the various desires of human life. Those simple monosyllables are like a stiletto to the solar plexus, and I think of them often when I am deeply moved, as I was last week.

It was a normal day in the hospital: that is to say, human folly and wickedness lay all about me for my leisurely inspection. My first patient, for example, was a young Indian woman who was caught on the horns of a dilemma. Her mother had told her that she would kill herself unless her daughter returned to the marital home, irrespective of the fact that her father-in-- law repeatedly raped her there, with the complete acquiescence of her husband, for whom filial obedience was the first principle of morality. What should she do - cause her mother's suicide or be raped continually?

It was a terrible story, of course, but I have now become too accustomed to it (or its ilk) not to feel more than visceral anger for a moment or two. It was my next patient who cleft my heart in twain.

She, too, was Indian, 18 years old. She had been in England about a year, and had been married by arrangement to a man about twice her age. He wasn't a bad man, as bad men go, but he was more interested in her wages (as a sewing-- machine operator in a clothing sweat shop) than in her. …

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