Friday, August 31, 2012

Sentimental Reconconstructions



This summer Sameer is in love with Carol, and Ayush is in love with Priya. Last summer Sameer and Priya had gone on long drives, and Ayush had kissed Carol on a moonlit beach.

Sameer had etched in his memory the exact moment Carol had let her gaze linger on him, when they were in the arms of their respective lovers on a dance floor. He was seventeen and a purple skirt fluttering around honey-colored calves, delicate eyelids lined with kohl, and slow laughter rising in a throat had engulfed his young heart in the throes of passion. When the one in his arms knew, she had shed copious tears on his handkerchief but recovered surprisingly fast when she learned it was Carol. It took him a week to realize the swapping that had occurred that summer; he had seen Ayush’s arms around Priya on a night he was out with Carol, and wondered whether they had waited for him to confess first.
                                                ------------------------x-------------------------

He has been in love with Carol for four years, two months and six days now. In between classes he waits on a mound of soft grass and waves to Carol as she squints against the sun. They share a strip of mint gum and sit with books on their laps. They go to the theater on Friday evenings and to the beach on Saturday afternoons. They have their Sunday brunch sitting at their favorite table in a dark bistro. They rent a movie on Sunday nights and on the couch she lets his hands roam. They read late into the weeknights over cups of coffee in the college library. He gifts her flowers and non-fiction, she gifts him records and fiction. He makes long phone calls at night; she sends short texts throughout the day. They are used to this predictable companionship, the effortless love devoid of jealousies and mind games and insecurities.
                                               ------------------------x-------------------------

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Weekend


This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou
lovest best.
Night, sleep, and the stars.
-Walt Whitman
The magic hour when all the ideas are yours and the pillow is soft and the windows are open and the moon throws oblong shadows on your bed and the cicadas sing and the breeze softly brushes your feet.

I have been reading poems. Poems about love and desire, life and death, spring and autumn, hope and despair, books and travels, men and women, days and nights, time and eternity. Poems by Walt Whitman, E.E. Cummings, Pablo Neruda, Rabindranath Tagore, Emily Dickinson, Maya Angelou,John Keats and Sylvia Plath. Poems that exhilarate me, kindle flaming hopes, drown me in despair, bind me in a realm of fantasy, curl my toes, awaken myriad questions, isolate me, melt me into the unknown, swirl my soul and harbinger a good night's rest.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Years



Every morning she wrung the last drops of water out of her husband’s shirt and her daughter’s ink stained bed sheet and hung them on the common clothesline. She looked around at the wet clothes of her neighbors and became wary of the intimate glimpse into their lives through faint patches of vermillion on a white kurta or the hole in the blue sock of the professor downstairs; so she took to staring at the sky instead and thinking about the clear skies of her childhood, the myriad shades of brilliant blue interspersed with cottony clouds that seemed to follow her as she walked along the narrow path that snaked through tea gardens to reach her school. Life used to be simple and full of hope that the years will be kind to her.

She was given to bouts of incessant staring. In the mornings she watched the wobbly flesh on her husband’s thighs as he walked around the house in his over-stretched and over-starched shorts with tiny threads dangling from the fraying hem. During mealtimes she stared at the hair on his knuckles curling into rings as he dipped his hand in the dal and frenziedly mixed it with rice, the turmeric staining his palm. She watched the grain of rice sticking to the corner of his lips and the revolting sight of the half-chewed morsel of food in his mouth as he told her how tasty the biryani was. At night he burped aloud as he got into her bed and she watched his greasy hair roots, the large shiny forehead and his hands with the hairy knuckles.

She stared at her son’s collection of comic books and tried to remember the exact moment when he started stringing letters to form words. She noticed his long fingers strumming his father’s old guitar and sometimes struggling to create perfect spikes in his hair. One day he had flung at her the pants she had so lovingly chosen, in a time when he still needed her, because it now showed too much ankle. She stared at his “Trainspotting” poster while dusting his desk and the discomfort on his face when she opened the door to greet his friends.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What The Weather Makes Us Say


Why My Sister is Darwin's Re-incarnation?
It was a harsh winter in the mountains of Tawang and I entertained the poetic tragedy of being frozen to death and be discovered in spring thaw. But my sister had strong survival instincts as evident in her statement below.
Me: It's so cold, I'll turn into ice.
My Sister: It's so cold, I'll turn into a polar bear.

The Curse of The Snowy Mountain
My newly-wed friend returns after a honeymoon in the snow clad mountains.
Me: How was the honeymoon?
Friend: (loud, excited voice that reached husband in the next room) It was so much fun. (in conspiratorial whisper) But you know he is still irritated.
Me: Why?
Friend: It was so cold, he couldn't get it up...(just then friend's husband plops on the sofa next to her)..couldn't get up the mountain, you know, it was freezing weather on the trek. (Straight face. Not a flicker of emotion.)

Friday, August 17, 2012

North-East India: A Clarification

After years of indignation and crying themselves hoarse against generalized apathy and blithe ignorance, North-East India and especially Assam has been propelled into the national limelight for reasons that has only fanned the damaging notions harbored in the minds of the rest of the Indian population for whom the eastern boundaries of our country used to end in Bengal; and for the more geographically gifted intellectuals in a triangular lump of land called “North-East”.

Yes, North-East India does have its problems: illegal immigration through porous borders and its consequences, flood ravaged lands every monsoon, indigenous tribes facing years of neglect till it sprouted groups to fight for their rights but lost perspective under influence of selfish political agendas and personal gains giving birth to militancy, the constant need to prove themselves and to fight for equal opportunities and acceptance by fellow Indians, a frighteningly indifferent government at the Center with delayed reactions to the region’s problems, slow growth of industrialization, relative lack of funds and infrastructure etc.

But in the collective imagination of a large subset of Indians the ‘State of North-East’ has been attributed with a lot of misleading beliefs, and these have been faced in form of curious questions or ignorant speculations by self, friends, family and acquaintances.

This is a miniscule attempt to clarify few of those ‘beliefs’ and lessen the prejudice against North-East India:

1. Not all of its inhabitants have the convention-defying slant of eyes. It’s derogatory to club everyone as ‘chinky’; the label itself reeks of regionalism.
2. Its not about degraded moral values but a more liberal mindset; and hemlines might be high but the girls aren'teasy’. Remember that.
3. Appetites don't get whetted by the mere sight of pigeons, pigs, bulls or dogs and it’s just about ‘different’ gastronomical preferences. Respect that.
4. People don't harbor an unabashed disinterest in Hindi film music; they just happen to be connoisseurs of ‘good music’ and not limiting themselves to just one genre. And yes, they are ardent followers of rock music.
5. Guns and ‘khukuridon't lie under every pillow and everyone doesn't have at least one ‘militant’ acquaintance. People share the same dread for them as the rest of the country.
6.  People aren't (and never will be) immune to the horrors of militancy and riots; and don't have infinitely pliable capacity for facing them. An act of violence in Manipur is worth the same concern as one occurring in Mumbai. Understand that.
7.  They aren't the ‘poor cousin’ devoid of the intoxicating mix of night-life, fast cars, designer clothes, page 3 society and  iPads; and resigned to the medieval pleasures of guitar-strumming, reading a book and writing in cafes. They don't necessarily miss the fast-paced life and have been known to hold rock concerts in garages and parks; go skinny dipping on New Year’s Eve; hold strawberry pie bake-offs, flower shows and barbecues; and picnic on river banks and green valleys. They delight in these ‘medieval’ pleasures.
8. Weed and alcohol aren't kept in secret stashes in the rooms of every boy past the age of fourteen.
9. They don't have a blasphemous preference for 'English' over the national language; and barring North India, the rest of the country still struggles with their Hindi diction and continue to speak with an endearing mixing of genders in every sentence.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Who Died?

The birth is still vivid in her mind.

It was late on a summer afternoon; the room was dark and the window was open. A fan with yellowed blades and cobwebs droned over her head.  The nurse had yawned and dragged her noisy feet to disappear behind a tattered green curtain. Fragments of muted conversations from adjacent rooms and infrequent bouts of cough interrupted the languid hours. Her head was bent over a book when she had heard the footsteps. The adjacent chair was drawn and she had acknowledged the arrival with a polite smile and a brief nod.

A whirlpool surfaced in undisturbed waters. She hadn’t been aware of it growing inside her; the violent realization of its impending birth flushed her skin and numbed her feet. A fulminant throb arose in her temples. This didn’t belong in the future she had envisioned. It was ectopic, and it had a quiet birth. There were no witnesses. The one in the chair had looked away.

She found it illicit. She felt ashamed, she kept it hidden, she arrived late, she left early; she didn’t nurture it and prayed for its early death. A fear beset every waking moment of her life; they had known all along, had mocked her futile attempts to conceal it, were entertained by her fluster and forced cheer, had noticed the furtive looks and the sweat on her brow, had seen the bloodied aftermath of birth!

The ectopic was sly; it lurked in shadows and read between lines. Unknown to her it followed certain deft fingers, a furrowed brow, the insidious curve of a smile, the laughter rising in a throat, the voice uttering a name, the impatience in a stride, the defiant pride in every movement , a thinly veiled sarcasm, and a boldness that was almost offensive. The observations fueled the its desire to survive; and this appalled her. Each night she shut her ears to its whimpering cry for attention and ignored its stifling weight on her chest. Strange thoughts had begun to afflict her mind.

Fate chose to cause an unexpected breach; eyes had looked away and it caused her disproportionate agony. This was the creature’s moment! This was its chance to push away every deterrent and to finally belong. It was no longer ectopic; she reasoned its birth and existence beyond her control and accepted it. Emboldened by her attention the creature had grown by leaps and bounds, and told her things that made her heart sing. She decided to rear it away from prying eyes and nestled it in the warm cocoon of her heart. She felt determined that no one should ever know.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

When God Overdid My Fervent Teenage Wish For Feminine Curves And Turned Me Into A Ball Of Fat!



Children are impressionable and quick to soak up nasty comments that deter their self-image, sometimes for life, which can be a problem because none in the world can be crueler than school children.  My childhood and even my college years had been generously peppered with unkind and uncalled for comments about my weight, my unruly hair, my mannish jaw line and even my dark skin. I had been the pampered daughter of a large household and never made to realize that I lacked the physical attributes of beauty that ‘society’ had set down. The only comment about physical appearance I had ever faced till then was being affectionately nick-named ‘Baah Khori’ (bamboo stick) by my youngest Khura (paternal uncle) due to the effortless size zero figure I had and was blissfully unaware of such prejudices till I moved to Guwahati the year I entered my teens. 

I remember being in awe of a friend who wrote like a dream; but sighed and withdrew the pedestal from underneath her feet when I learnt that and she had nicknamed me ‘defective piece’ based solely on the beauty I lacked (maybe she was just being a ‘regular’ teen and I was wrong to presume that her intelligence freed her from prejudices that afflicted the hoi polloi). When I saw the ‘early developers’, I resigned to the sad fate of forever remaining a mere thirty eight kilos despite unabashed gluttony and never having to buy a bra (or buying one and stuffing it with socks) in my future. Soon I turned a veteran of accepting such shallowness in my stride, and toss it off without a second thought. I wasn’t exactly a saint either; I too had joined in the raucous laughter when the object of ridicule had been someone else. It’s an uncomfortable truth that people judge others on their physical appearance, always or at some point in their lives.

But (-um, Robin Scherbatzky!) there has been one issue that I had struggled with for a decade, and that is my body weight. When I turned thirteen my super-fit cousin and a highly sought name in the Indian modeling circuit, Aryan Baruah, advised me to join a gym and jump in the newly emerging trend of fitness in Guwahati. I enrolled for an aerobics class in a gym in Dispur. I was eager about gaining some much needed curves, because people had started to look annoyed by the rude boy (yours truly) who sat on the seats reserved for women on the bus! The high point was when a group of ‘cool’ college girls told the gawky fourteen year old me that they would kill for legs like mine! That was it, even my father’s frowns couldn’t stop me from wearing mini-skirts for a blissful two years; although I overdid it the day I wore an outrageous ‘leopard print’ skirt to attend (cringe in shame now, eeeesh) Math tutorial class! But the increasing demands of college life with medical entrance examination preparation squashed out gym and the only flicker of consistent physical activity from my life. The local grocer’s fortunes doubled when I started buying out entire shelves of potato chips, colas, butter to go with my Aloo Paranthas breakfast and Maggi noodles. God too decided to grant my fervent teenage wish for feminine curves and he felt so apologetic about being late that he transformed me into a big ball of fat! I didn’t have a waist and no one could strangle me because they would have to find a neck first. It took me a year to realize that I had multiple chins and the stores no longer carried the sizes of the clothes I liked.

Monday, August 13, 2012

In A Perfect World, On A Perfect Day



The curls dance on her forehead, wild and untamed, to the rhythm of an autumn zephyr. She spreads the blanket and sits down leaning against a rugose pine tree. The earth is still soggy from last night's rain; she sinks her palm into the dewy grass and her short red nails sparkle in the sunshine. She sees him in the distance walking towards her, carrying the lunch basket from the car. She tries to remember the last time they were alone, undisturbed and with ample time.

It was two months ago when he got a day off from work and had ordered lunch from the Chinese eatery near his home, eating spoonfuls of oily noodles from each other’s plates, and they had let the sauce dry on the dishes as they talked for hours comparing notes on their childhood, travels and books. Later they sat cross-legged on the rug watching Woody Allen's "The Purple Rose of Cairo", and at dusk he had kissed her for the first time, as they stood on the balcony and watched the sun go down in the distant hills. They talk on the phone every night, pass each other in the hospital corridors, share rushed lunches in the canteen, strain to hear each other’s voices in crowded cafes on weekends, and feel the quiet assurance of interlinked fingers as he drives her home after long days at work.

He suggested the picnic two weeks ago but had to wait for their work leaves to coincide. He picked her up at five in the morning and had stood grinning as her father shouted a list of 'dos and don’ts'  from the second floor balcony. They rolled down the windows, fought about the choice of car music, bought bottles of water from a shop on the highway, sneaked sidelong glances at each other when they were overcome with sudden bouts of coyness and tried to mask the shiver of excitement on their first outing together. He swerved the car through the narrow hill roads and after a few hours stopped near a forest resplendent with dappled autumn foliage.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Smorgasbord of Rituals

Habit is not mere subjugation, it is a tender tie: when one remembers habit it seems to have been happiness.
--Elizabeth Bowen

Often inadvertent actions slip into unknowing uniformity and turn rituals, but these everyday rituals define us, comfort us and bring a certain order to our lives. I'm not the paragon of self-discipline, and I lack a structured life. Yet certain rituals have osmosed into my life, and remained.

Coffee and Crosswords
I nearly barfed in my mouth when I first tasted jasmine tea served in the lilliputian cups by a stand-in-Chinese waiter; but the taste (or the lack of it) grew on me and this aromatic concoction is on my table every morning now. It’s a part of my morning ritual which includes the following:
  1. Fumbling under my pillow for my phone to check for any messages, hoping for some earth-shattering good news only to find BSNL/Pizza Hut/Tata Photon spamming my inbox.
  2. Two minutes of stupor as I struggle with the decision of acquiring a little more sleep, and as testified by my family this is the most dangerous time of the day to approach me. Civility is clouded by sleep and primitive instincts of violence are sharp.
  3. An unnaturally long walk (or so it seems) to the sink to brush and floss and being startled every time by my the sight of my hair that could nest an Emu.
  4. Drinking jasmine tea (and this time in a cup made for adequately sized humans) in a desperate attempt to replace the caffeine in my veins.
  5. Sitting cross-legged on the divan in the verandah, leafing through the morning newspaper to check the headlines and the crossword, and inhaling lungfuls of recommended daily intake of fresh air.
  6. Dragging my reluctant feet to the study desk where tattered MCQ books lay awaiting me.
 This routine has subtle variations once in a while to include coffee; and on the days I’m charged up about fitness (usually brought about by reading a new issue of Prevention Magazine) it includes an early morning swim/a walk/half an hour on the stationary cycle which on other days serve as a clothes hanger.

Assault of My Eyes
I don’t eat carrots, or spinach. And I read ALL the time. My hawk-eyed parents make sure I study enough hours in preparation for that elusive AIPGE seat. Then I read the books on my ‘to read’ list just about every where; on the pot, while I ‘inhale’ my lunch without taking my eyes off the book, on my way to the gym (on my way back from the gym I usually lay motionless and breathless on the back seat of my car), while waiting in a queue, while waiting for perpetually running late friends (I’m sure they say the same thing about me), at dinner as my parents threaten to snatch the damn book away and in bed before I drift off to sleep (in a 'dontiya do' position, which only Assamese readers will understand!).  Once a month I switch off my phone, shut my door, put on a pair of comfortable pajamas, assemble a variety of snacks, get in bed and spend the day in a marathon reading session. But my eyes have miraculously survived this assault so far and been at a respectable -0.25D all these years (I made the ever-obliging and surprisingly mild-mannered ophthalmology post graduate trainees check my vision quite often during my internship).

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Harmonious Uniformity Of Falling For The Underdog And The Wrong One Too


The storm had abated. Sleep and sanity restored. The question that went on in a loop: "Was it even love?"

I wonder why I put myself through these sporadic instances of total loss of reasoning; from which I come out with a battered and bruised ego, drained of precious energy and time, priorities gone awry, mind plagued with self-doubt, sabotaging my goals in life, repenting in leisure the consequences of my impulsive actions, a memory tarnished with unpleasantness, questioning my decisions and choices, and most importantly making a fool of myself.

Why do I do it?

Because fools rush in. I fall in love too easily; initial triggers may be a smile, kindness, intellect, assertiveness, a love for books, sarcasm and sometimes even questionable wit! The person is just incidental; I am more often in love with the idea of being in love.

But I don't realize it until it’s too late; till I sit back, put my feet up, take off my rose-tinted shades and analyze why I do what I do.

The Current Tally Of Romantic Follies: (excluding the momentary infatuations that last no longer than a week)

1. 1997-Being a Conformist and Crushing on the Teacher:

A humongous crush on my history teacher which lead to nothing more than remembering the Mughals and Chandragupta for posterity. I studied history with a fervor that would have taken me to great academic heights had I applied it ever again!

Why did I rush in? 

He was the only person who noticed the timid girl everyone overlooked in a class full of boisterous students, and boosted her self-confidence with kind words of encouragement.

2. 1999-The Movie Star...err...Person:

I wasn't aware of the movies that would follow, and the non-entity he would become. But when "Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi" came out, I was overcome with admiration for the intense, brooding and caterpillar-browed Sanjay Suri (What was I thinking!!!). I tried to immortalize his influence in my hormone-ridden teenage years by writing odes of love and pasting his photograph in my diary, which my sister later displayed in front of my guffawing friends.

Why did I rush in? 

All the schoolgirls fantasized about the blue-eyed poster boys of romance Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio (Titanic was a craze then) and on the home-front Salman Khan and Shah Rukh Khan (it was before the debut of Hrithik Roshan). I had to find and love the underdog. I had to be contrary.

3. 2005-Blush of First Love:

I was all of nineteen years, shy and awkward. And there he was on my computer screen, talking to me about books and movies, hearing about my day and making me double up with laughter with his quick wit. We met only thrice and wrote long letters and emails. The long distance tired him after a year. I failed to understand why trivial details like distance mattered when two people were in love. My flabby cerebrum gathered much later that I was the only one who was in love. I spent the next six months digging up the songs one is supposed to listen in times of extreme anguish and hearing them in a loop. I couldn’t take to the bottle, and it was physically impossible for me to grow a beard. But other than that I resembled Devdas in entirety.

Why did I rush in?  

 It was the love of an unsullied heart. Simple.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Where is a good crow when you want to follow one?


A bowl of crisps, rain outside my window, a soft bed and the cinematic pursuit of five nights.


The Color of Paradise (Iranian): A blind boy gifts his grandmother a green hair clip and she lovingly pins it onto her dress, the sisters accept a necklace made out of tin bottle caps and a comb; treasuring the gifts of love thoughtfully selected by one who couldn’t see them. Traipsing around the Iranian countryside, Mohammed’s life is colored by the same joys that occupy the lives of ten year olds. He wonders what lay beyond the forest he couldn’t see but knows is near. He is exasperated by the questionable reading skills of the boys of the local school. His fingers move fast across the notebook in Braille as a curious teacher looks on, and the same fingers study the rhythms of nature. He wonders what the birds talk about, and the call of the woodpecker fascinates him. He touches his sister’s face and is amazed at how much she has grown up in the past year. He adores his grandmother and craves his father’s acceptance and love. He has his moments of grief, breaking down the wall of joy and self-reliance he has created so painstakingly. He doesn’t expect much from this world, but his father does from him. The man’s insistence on a ‘normal’ life free of responsibilities of taking care of a blind child, and hopes of getting re-married bring about a slew of personal tragedies abruptly overthrowing the veiled paradise he inhabited but failed to recognize. It’s a cornerstone of cinematic excellence, yet the end left me in dismay.



My Neighbours, the Yamadas (Japanese): Pimple-faced, overtly self-conscious and perpetually lazy teenager, Noboru, receives a phone call from a girl. Now, that’s a first in his life and also in the family’s collective set of events. Grandmother, mother and sister lives up to their uncontrollable levels of curiosity and eavesdrop shamelessly on the phone conversation.

Grandmother: “Does he have a girlfriend? With his looks?”
Mother: “A real girlfriend?”
Sister: “His face is red!”
Boy tackles the huddle of curious women with a few menacing glances, they cower away. He rushes back to his room.
Mother: “You insulted him, Mother!”
Grandmother: “And you are the paragon of motherhood!!”

 The movie is filled with vignettes of the life of a middle-class family in Japan but rings true for families across the world. The panic of losing their little daughter in a crowded shopping mall, confronting hooligan bikers in their neighborhood, finding the black hole that shelters lost socks, the politics of deciding dinner menu, the fight over the television remote that can shame any Kung Fu enthusiast, the frisky and headstrong grandmother with a disposition for cooking unpronounceable dishes, the ever-frazzled and clumsy mother, the aimless and all knowing teenager, the smart sister, the dynamics of a ‘real’ marriage of a tough and harmonious couple; the movie chronicles what it is like to be a family, cruising on the same boat of Life, and not always steering in the same direction. Witty and endearing, this movie is a delight.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sexy



I read a hilarious blog post on my college senior’s blog, about a rickshaw puller’s unwanted fatherhood looming large in his near future and his hopes of being the local do-gooder by donating sperms to his childless sister-in-law! As bizarre as his family dynamics sound, such preposterous encounters are more common than you think. The post reminded me of a similar incident in March when I was posted in a God-forsaken remote village in Kamrup under the NRHM scheme.
  
The Setting: Last autumn I found myself standing precariously on a boat of questionable strength and crossing a river to get to my work place. The official quarters I was allotted had a rickety roof populated by giant owls that did a midnight jig right over my bed, and doors that refused to be bound down by locks. Add to that electricity with a mind of its own and patients that seemed (to me, at least) to leap out of bushes at 1am to shout out loud about babies about to pop out (which is a valid emergency) or a back itch/wrist pain that is suddenly unbearable (seriously?WTF!)! 

There were good moments, in the calm and undisturbed country side where people still danced to 90s film music, and newspapers were shared among ten households. Cars were a rare sight, so was Maggi noodles. Strangers stopped you midway and ask where you were going and where you were coming from, that’s the sole conversation-starter. It felt refreshing to be cut off from all the noise and the polluted air and the need to stay connected; but the sameness got on my nerves after a while. 

There are only so many beautiful sunrises you can marvel at after umpteen sleepless nights of delivering 4kg babies of petite seventeen year old mothers, who on repeated questioning admits to being a recent teenager! My mind went reeling at such shocking disclosures and my attempts to educate them on the proper age for childbearing or use of contraception only turned them hostile. They fretted over girls who remain unmarried at the ripe old age of fifteen; 'such burdens', they lament. The unfortunate girls who failed to strike a matrimonial alliance by the time they had turned seventeen were married off to old widowers or became the second/third wife of pot-bellied men older than their fathers. The women look old; they look fifty when they are twenty. They asked me if my kids were in school, considering these women turn grandmothers before hitting thirty! I didn’t want to shock them out of a decade’s growth that I’m 26 year old and unmarried, so I tell them that my kids are studying in the sixth standard and they feel satisfied at the familial progress of my life.  They breed like rabbits. Half of their lives are spent with a pregnant belly. Contraception is a dirty word; and as one husband, who had brought his wife for a third abortion, sagely put it, "We can’t deny what God gives us". But they don't hesitate to kill it when it had just started to sprout limbs! The women with bulging bellies stand at the threshold coyly, a baby at their breast and a trail of toddlers chewing peanuts and rubbing noses on their mothers’ sari. It’s surreal; these people, these lives, this place.

The INCIDENT: A blind man of eighty came to the health center towards the end of OPD hours. He was escorted by his wife who looked haggard. The man had a luxurious and flowing white beard and reminded me of Father Christmas, and in this case he happened to wear a blue checkered 'lungi' (as absurd as it sounds!). He was reluctant to state his complaint and instead smiled creepily, almost lecherously. It disturbed me and I turned to his wife, but she looked too defeated to answer. It was two in the afternoon and a sumptuous lunch awaited me, so I conveyed my urgency to go home. The nurse who had come to close the windows in my room scolded the old man for his reluctance.