There’s a lovely story about Anil Ambani, narrated by the man himself, of a presentation he made before investors in New York in the late 1990s.
Glib and charming as ever, Dhirubhai‘s younger son impressed those who wanted to put in money in Reliance Industries with his PPT, till one of them piped up.
“Your company is in great shape, Mr Ambani,” said the investor, “but what about you?”
At the time, the junior Ambani brother was, to put it mildly, a great protector of Gujarati male ‘asmita‘.
He weighed 120 kilos.
His waist size was in the 40s.
His chest wasn’t ‘chhappan‘.
He wore trousers whose legs looked as if they had been chopped off from the mouth of a roller flour mill, if you have seen one.
It’s at that time, says Anil Ambani, that the value of getting back to and staying in shape dawned upon him.
Thus began his famous pre-dawn run from Colaba, where the undivided Ambani parivar resided in Bombay, to Dadar and beyond, and back.
It’s a story I have narrated many times over the years because it captures a key truth so well—if you are not fit to run an enterprise, howsoever successful, how can the board or the bank, colleagues or customers, be confident of its future?
(Never mind that Anil Ambani’s improved fitness couldn’t save the companies he launched under the ADAG brand after his elder brother Mukesh stabbed him in the front.)
It was Anil Ambani’s story that came to mind when ‘Huffington Post‘ scooped an amazing letter from three psychiatrists, two of them belonging to Harvard Medical School and one to University of California.
It was dated November 29 and it was addressed to Barack Obama, the outgoing President of the United States of America, even as his successor Donald J. Trump was gelling his hair for his ‘arangetram‘ on January 15.
“Dear President Obama,
“We are writing to express our grave concern regarding the mental stability of our President-Elect. Professional standards do not permit us to venture a diagnosis for a public figure whom we have not evaluated personally. Nevertheless, his widely reported symptoms of mental instability — including grandiosity, impulsivity, hypersensitivity to slights or criticism, and an apparent inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality — lead us to question his fitness for the immense responsibilities of the office. We strongly recommend that, in preparation for assuming these responsibilities, he receive a full medical and neuropsychiatric evaluation by an impartial team of investigators.”
A couple of things in that letter are remarkable, especially when seen from an Indian context, where a combination of fear, reverence and deference, topped up with chamcha-giri, sycophancy and subservience, form the bedrock on which the political totempole is erected.
One, the sight of doctors with unimpeachable credentials fearlessly speaking truth to power, belling the cat in public, without beating round the bush, without fear of retribution.
Two, the academic freedom in the American University system, which values free thought and expression, howsoever damaging it may be to anyone’s ear or ego.
And three, the general air of free speech that prevails in America, thanks to the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which allows even the mental health of a President to be discussed openly.
There are exceptions to these, of course, but to understand or appreciate it, imagine three doctors from the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) writing to Manmohan Singh in 2014 on Narendra Modi.
Or, if you don’t like the thought of that, imagine three doctors from the apocryphal Deen Dayal Upadhyay Manasik Chikitsa Mahavidyalaya (Regd) writing to Narendra Modi on Arvind Kejriwal, or fill-your-pet-hate here, in 2019.
The credentialled professors would have got a “zero” like Sanjeev Chaturvedi; pseudo-nationalist goons, goondas and bhakts would have gheraoed the Institute and had its funds cut off; and those making the charge would have been called “naxals” and “anti-nationals” on the dozens of private clones of Doordarshan.
Some super-patriot may even have thrown black paint on the doctors’ faces before filing a case of sedition, as the political scientist Ashis Nandy found out (http://tinyurl.com/z5vx66l).
But the mental health of our leaders—political, business, or others—is a serious issue, and the thing is, it is barely discussed or debated in our part of the world, where three countries possess the nuclear code.
# Despite the mad, loony things they say and do.
# Despite their lust for blood in the quest for power.
# Despite showing signs of not being in control of their senses.
Donald Trump’s unhinged conduct in his first month in office has willy-nilly rendered the debate on his mental fitness redundant, but it has gone on, nonetheless in newspapers populated and produced by the “most dishonest himan beings on earth”.
Id est, us, journalists.
On Valentine’s Day, 35 psychiatrists and scholars jumped in with a letter in the ‘New York Times‘:
“Trump’s speech and actions demonstrate an inability to tolerate views different from his own, leading to rage reactions. His words and behaviour suggest a profound inability to empathize. Individuals with these traits distort reality to suit their psychological state, attacking facts and those who convey them (journalists, scientists).”
Certainly, there is a hint of politics in this debate but it is by no means partisan.
After the 35 scholars wrote in, Prof Allen Frances of Duke University, weighed in, again in the ‘NYT’:
“I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.
“Bad behaviour is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.”
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has nine criteria for determining “Narcissistic Personality Disorder”.
If an individual scores 5 out of 9, he is NPD+ve, a clinical case. But barely one per cent of the American population qualifies, by which yardstick Trump truly is in the top 1%.
The nine criteria for NPD are, if an individual:
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance.
2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with other special or high-status people (or institutions).
4. Requires excessive admiration.
5. Has a sense of entitlement.
6. Is interpersonally exploitative.
7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings and needs of others.
8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviours or attitudes.”
How many boxes does your favourite politician, businessman, guru, movie star tick?
How many do you?
The short point is, we entrust gigantic, complex nations (and states) to people we know so little about, leaving the fate of millions at their mercy.
What if they are not up to the task where it matters most: upstairs?