RADIO / A brave tale of rags and stitches

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The Independent Culture
THE MAN in the makeshift wheelchair is a beggar. He has withered legs and a strange leonine look. That, and a thickening of the ears, is a clue to what is wrong with him now. Dr Jack Preger pulls up his shirt and, through the caked dirt on his back, feels the patches on his skin. He wears no gloves, nor does he evince any disgust as he confirms the diagnosis of leprosy. Why should he be alarmed? He once gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to somebody dying of TB, and caught typhoid from nursing people nobody else would approach. He seems afraid of nothing, not even of the violence and squalor of the slums of Calcutta where, on a noisy pavement, he runs a clinic for the destitute. No wonder they call him St Jack.

Radio 4 visited India twice this week, first to meet this

remarkable British doctor. Though he is fired by a determination to help the helpless, there is no trace of self-satisfaction in this angry, compassionate man. He knows too well that he can easily get carried away in his relentless pursuit of justice. Yet, listening to his patient conversations with helpers, beggars and journalists, you could scarcely doubt his blazing sincerity, altruism and integrity. And if that isn't enough for canonisation, it did earn him an MBE this year - not quite the same, but, for once, you felt it was an honour richly deserved.

The school he set up for street children is close to Mother Teresa's refuge, and to the temple of the terrifying goddess Kali visited by Mark Tully in his pursuit of the esoteric cult of Tantra (R4). Gripped by revolted fascination, we heard a black goat being ritually sacrificed in the temple and a pundit explaining that it was a scapegoat, carrying off the evils of our minds. In the cremationground, emaciated old men meditate among burning bodies, having overcome their own fear of death - and putting the fear of God into Tully.

In Martin Buckley's mysterious and fascinating programme,

we learnt that Tantra is an attempt to unite all the dualities of nature; good and evil, life and death, spiritual and material and, of course, male and female. Sex is prescribed as an essential way of reaching true bliss and God-realisation, but without carnal enjoyment. I'm not sure that Mark Tully understood how to achieve this, and I was a touch mystified myself, but then, both partners have to be highly evolved Tantrics, so there's not much hope for us.

Sex was up front in Coming on Strong (R1) on World Aids Day, and there was not much of the divine about it, despite a background of 'One Night in Heaven'. Propaganda was broadcast alongside queasily jokey titillation as anonymous young things talked about what they enjoyed. The clitoris assumed alarming importance - it was all deeply depressing - and one girl talked boldly about her inalienable right to pick up a stud for a one-night stand, while another boasted pathetically that she loved him so much she wanted his HIV. Promiscuity is taken for granted: the current chat-up line appears to be: if you trust me, you won't insist on a condom. But what Mark Thomas insisted on calling his little latex friend, his cock-cagoule, was the hero of the hour. The show ended shockingly, with one dead and several probably dying, all because of lack of respect for the great god condom.

What they really needed was some sense of their own morality, some code against which they could assess their inclinations and determine their behaviour. It is a subject discussed with increasing weariness by Michael Buerk in his embattled and entangled The Moral Maze (R4). This week, the panel tried to discover whether morality could exist in a godless world. Lord Rees- Mogg wheeled out Mother Teresa again as an example of divinely inspired goodness (what did we do for heroes before her?) and Rabbi Hugo Gryn, as always, produced his little flickering candle of hope, but their conclusions were, well, inconclusive.

In Sammi (R5), a nice teenager talked about how her life had been improved by breast-reduction surgery. The background of smutty jokes made her plight less risible, more pathetic, and the surgeon didn't help by describing her breasts as enormous, droopy and truly heavy. Her parents took out a second mortgage to help their daughter become more acceptable in the morally muddled and perilous world around her.

A grimmish, Budget-ridden week was cheered up by a rash of malapropisms. One girl on Radio 1 didn't mean it when she said that condoms were a sign of sensibility, or that, like a used Kleenex, she had disregarded her lover. Two people probably did mean it when they spoke of their children going through nasty phrases and, on The Archers (R4), glorious Clarrie Grundy was dead right to describe Joe as an invertebrate liar.