Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Country For Old (and Useless) Men

News of the bombings trickled down to my end of the food chain as I craned out of my 12th pushup in a gym who’s membership I owed to an uncle I rarely met and (thankfully) didn’t have to know too well. This man had, for the two weeks I’d been here, been putting in focused, persistent and nauseating poorly veiled efforts to try and get me to stop flat out refusing to get hitched with a daughter of one of his colleagues. Trio’d with my dad (who even under normal circumstances is the panjandrum-ic Bill O’Reilly of the Psychology of parenting “You know what I love about you Bill? It’s not what you say, it’s how loudly you say it” – Jon Stewart) having been granted the curmudgeonly bonus that comes with having undergone an inguinal hernia repair two days ago, and with the usual incongruous, incapacitating, socially-crippling loneliness Jaipur makes sure I always feel, the goings were less than ideal.

They shut down the gym, and as I mounted the electric scooter my 55kg dad had bought (after selling our motorcycle), I saw how the streets were indeed clogged with people trying to get home. I thought of asking a security guard or fellow commuters which part of the city the explosions had taken place in, but was held back by the distant, unfriendly silence that exists in the ice before you break it. Something about Jaipur has always made me not just shiver at that ice, but actually dread it. I got back home in 15 minutes (the bloody thing – and bloody not just as in it’s bright red – doesn’t do any more than 35kmph).

There were eight blasts in all, all in the walled city, and for some reason NDTV kept referring to Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Hospital as Sawai Madhopur Hospital. Telephone networks had been broke-backed by the sheer volume of people trying to call at once.

To be honest, I am really just a selfish person, sort of like Shylock. I believe in the pristine fairness of barter. Granted there was a feral urge to be more than a mute, impotent spectator sponging in things through a televised sieve and an urge to help, what with the TV constantly declaring “extra doctors and medical support were being arranged for” by our quicksilver bureaucratic machinery. But I also wanted a karmic IOU. Something to flash and bargain with when cornered instead of merely cowering, cringing and repenting; something to fabricate a ball of moral spittle around. So I got onto the embarrassing red and white lawnmower-battery-with-wheels and plowed down to the hospital.

At 8, SMS really wasn’t as choked as you’d expect. There were at least 400 people there, but I had been expecting more. Most stood around with arms folded, frowning, ostentatiously ruining their cellphone keypads in vain, trying to look grim and important – you know, not answering in a single go when you ask for directions, relishing the evanescent importance in shoving someone aside and saying ostensibly polite things gruffly and loudly.

I made my way up to the polytrauma ward on the first floor, following both the trail of drying blood on the floor, and the lemming-like milling of hysterical people. The ward itself was huge, tiled hall the size of a basketball court, with massive glass windows, tube lights and piped oxygen sockets in the wall (contraptions which would, when required later, blow out and become useless). There were 20 beds, all occupied by people in every possible state of shatter. From broken bones, busted jaws and injuries to the head to not even real scratches and abrasions. And all around them, like on the inside of a giant ant colony, gloved worker-humans jittered to and fro, doing the same thing over and over again (this one chap was given four tetanus shots). The coherent and slightly better off people seemed to be getting the most attention and those who’s fat was well and truly in the fire were avoided, for responsibility can be intimidating.

When something like this happens, around 20% of the victims will die regardless. 60% will survive regardless. It’s the remaining 20% who have to be identified and dealt with or they will then die. And you will be the reason it happened. Therein lies the responsibility. As was said to me by a certain Lt Col Yoginder Singh, the swiftest-stitching Gynaecologist you’re ever likely to see. I want to believe I did at least something of the sort.

There was this gent whose name I didn’t ask. He looked like that bloke we see in movies but never know the name of, only better looking and fairer. He was one of a handful who kept the shit from hitting the fan – both gung-ho and grounded. I brought his attention to a lady bleeding from her left ear and a man with a pulseless, mutilated left arm. They are by now respectively either in a coma/out of a coma/dead or have probably had their arm amputated. At least he told me where to take them and how.

This picture came in the paper the next morning; he’s the one with the arrow pointing at him. The bloke in front of him wheeling the cot’s me. I spent the rest of the time doing some bandaging, some stitching and more triaging. But when the governor came and I was told to shove off by a corpulent security guard who refused to believe I was a doctor (no gloves or white coat, you see) at around 1030, I pretty much it was time to go home. Besides, no one new had come in for 20 minutes.

I came back and watched our minister for state vomit out the same impersonal, impossibly stupid statement he’d give about the Malegaon and Ajmer attacks. Cowardice and purposelessness seeped out his skin. And then changed channels, watched House on AXN and went to sleep.

I got a chance to use my IOU the next day. It was authentic.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

My Sun Shall Also Rise

Bursting forth from the belly of a cockroach
That’d hid under a fallen star And so lived to be
the womb
From where I’d write the epilogue
To a holocaust of the Dream
the first things I see
Are the faded colours and the cracks in the wheels
A Sun blocked out from the sky
By the fumes of a hundred million rubber-tire ‘rebellions’
It’s place taken by a giant Methadone disco-ball
Shooting out sedation as sunlight
Fangs, hysterical laughter and numbness.
Meaningless dandelion yesterdays blown away
By solitude sired nuclear dust devils.
Yet to walk through the streets leaves me unafraid still
For our time away
Failed to teach the scavengers how to hunt
Yes there are shadows and yes there is smoke
But the sword and I have seen darker and murkier days
At the corner of yesterday and sanity
Littered in the eye of the aftermath
Of a Pretend-o-saur feeding frenzy
Lies the wasted carcass of some assembly line aeroplane
Picking workable pieces from the mangled iron carrion
I fashion wings welded together by copper-cold-hunger
And gilded by a Golden desire
To soar above the smog
Break through
And steal the secret of fire from the sun I know lies beyond
A heavenward bound fist fires angrily up
Driving a dolphin-leap through the gray-ether surface
I rob a coffee-cup of blazes
And hide it as gasoline deep in my dragon core
On the shelf below insanity and the one above the trouble I shall make
The feather-landing coincides with the first brick of the minaret falling
Now my sun has also risen.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Incredible! India

Just when bleakness' battering ram seems to be getting too stout to handle, you come across something like this.

True testimony that the people at O&M did indeed get it right when they called the nation incredible. As real an example of life's best teacher (libido) doling out a social message chalked on one of it's more visible blackboards(the rear end of a truck).
Basically, don't drink and drive or ur this shot of potency I've just imparted goes waste. Class!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saboraud's lonely dish

This happened to happen sometime during internship (and SSC's) early days. The setting was Hotel Pamm in Siliguri, Hillcart road.

Just before you cross over into it from Malaysia, the Singapore government has lined up dustbins outside the toll booths. They are dustbins second. Firstly, they serve as the dumping ground for any gum you might be chewing (doing the same chewing across the border is illegal). Siliguri is much the same. A garbage dump en route to Eastern India’s prima dona, Darjeeling. It is a dirty, cramped, brunt uninspiring city, the kind whose ugliness gives rise to a contempt that manages to overpower the pity its step-daughterly treatment generates. And NJP was its groin. But it wasn’t the city that kept Sabouraud on the verge of tears every moment he was awake. It was the fact that he was having to do the one thing that he both hated and was bad at, and would have to go on doing for the next seven years. A lump as hard as a fist made its way up his throat, and punched a tear out his right eye. He wiped it away, sitting alone at lunch and weeping had ‘loser’ written all over it.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Iggy Goes Pop

It seemed just another miserable start to just another day destined to be remain just another number on the calendar. Iggy was woken up as always by an incessant, spirit crushing beeping. Only this wasn’t his alarm clock. The sound came from a machine measuring his pulse. Iggy had woken up in a hospital. Just hours ago, he had tanked up on thirty-eight antidepressant pills washed down with two bottles of cough syrup, and had then slashed his both his wrists just to be sure. Beneath the bandages on his arms lay 28 stitches. To save his life, they had had to pump his stomach, electrocute him in the chest four times, and inject him with enough adrenaline to fill his skull.

Removing the bandages and touching the jagged crests of his stitches made him feel neither guilty nor grateful. Instead, for the first time in months, he caught a whiff of an emotion that had become over time so alien, it was initially difficult for him to comprehend what he was overcome with – he felt hopeful. He wanted to believe that the shitstorm was now over.

The man in the bed next to his had had a bastard of a heart-attack, and lay in deep slumber, with very bleak chances of ever waking up. His relatives milled about outside in the hall, and they’d left the usual hospital visit jetsam –plastic flowers, tacky cards, tackier metallic balloons – on the table next to his bed. Iggy picked up a woman’s purse that lay between a bunch of yellow plastic roses and a Mickey Mouse balloon, and fished out a pen and a notepad.
He began writing a suicide note.

Goodbye (from the world’s worst engineering student) or My Reluctantly RocknRoll Suicide

I used to smile. I used to like being alive. I used to be Jumping Jack Flash.
Then my soul was sold for a life I could never want.

As I begin to write this, I want you to know that I’m dead. All that embodied who I was, aspirations that no-one else would give a home or a hope, dreams only I could keep from drowning, ideas only I could sire, and the one person only I could understand, have been murdered. Butchered by the humiliation that comes with realizing how much cowardice I’d now have to inject in every part of every day, just to get by.

No more drugs disguised as medicines to get over the only medicines that ever stopped the pain. No more pain. No more shocks to the head to wash my thoughts clean of themselves. No more believing my introspection is twisted, and that being spit on by my own reflection is part of a package which will somehow be for my own good.

Don’t tell me I’m judging the past harshly. For why does every choice I didn’t make seem like on that I should have, and ever choice I did seem like the one mistake so wholly responsible for these tears drowning my soul?
I suppose a lot of it has to do with none of these choices being mine.

He tried hard to think of some way to continue and give the note a tangiable middle and a depressing enough end, but wondered if even since he didn’t care about choices made anymore, would anyone else. Leaving the letter half done, he yanked out the plastic tube in his arm, stopped the blood with his thumb, and climbed out the window.

Clambering down the drainpipe, he thought about what he was leaving behind – things he once held dear, a home, his family, some friends, all of which eventually meant less as time went by. Wishing HeartAttack well, he took one last look into the hospital room, and went on his way. Where, to what, how, he neither knew, nor felt awkward leaving unanswered for the time being.


(Meanwhile in a time some months afore)

Iggy walked into the store selling used tires and was immediately taken aback by the pristine hideousness of its insides. It looked as though the ugliest shop in the world had been burnt down, and then rebuilt using the remains, and the choicest morsels of trash from the rather sizable pile outside. As Pintoo began brokering a deal for the new tube, Iggy went outside to let Bagdogra humour him for a while. Outlandishly fetching Nepali girls walked by in track suits, carved out of tanned cheddar cheese with soul-nibbling smiles. Their being there, giggles and all, reminded Iggy of the conversation he had tried with so many of them, and the final and complete futility of trying. You say tomato. I say potato. It’s always so easy on TV, and ironically, even this dump had cable.

The token jeep ferrying youth workers of a political party screamed by. The boys wanted justice for the displaced poor. They were probably going to get it by holding the whole city hostage tomorrow and christening their day in the sun a strike. Iggy desperately wanted to talk to some of them. Preferably while stoned. He once tried. Dotting the city were several ‘sports clubs’, massive buildings opened under the aegis of one political mob or the other. Colossal things, so big you could play football on the first floor, which, this being Bengal, Iggy expected to find them doing as he walked into the New Tigers Club. Instead it turned out that the only two sports indulged in here were carom and a card game called rummy. The club turned out to be a very bourgeois Bertie Wooster kind of joint, plenty of smoking and the odd glass of whiskey being sipped at, only it was a shade too ramshackle and sadly un-woody.

By now Pintoo’d sealed the tube transaction. He’d done well, for save the cost of the tube, all they’d have to fish out as installation charges was five rupees. Watching him inspect the inflated tire by kicking it, Iggy noticed that Pintoo wasn’t looking too well. His dad was worried about him. Apparently he’d been hitting the bottle a bit more that was deemed good for him, and had started showing up late for work, and at times not at all. And then he was loosing weight, and this was Bengal. He wanted not to thing about such things for a moment. In the shade of a condom hoarding, they paid the money and left.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Noodle v/s Murdoc – Round 1 Winner Murdoc

“Odd thing that I, who used to clear out for any part of the world at twenty-four hours’ notice, with less thought than most men give to the crossing of a street, had a moment – I won’t say of hesitation, but of startled pause, before this commonplace affair. The best way I can explain it to you is by saying that for a second or two, I felt as though (instead of going to the centre of a continent), I were about to set off for the centre of the earth.” – Charlie Marlow, Heart of Darkness

It’s like those cruelest of hands dealt at Scrabble. The letters in the name ‘Tenga’, no matter how you arrange them, always very nearly mean something, but never do – Ant eg(g), Negat(e) and so on. In much the same way, an existence here could very nearly mean a life, but ends up as little more than just not being dead. It is the armpit of the world. And at 5am on a Tuesday morning, I’m on a bus headed to it.

“I have seen a cell full of sick junkies silent and immobile in separate misery. They knew the pointlessness of complaining or moving. They knew that basically no one can help anyone else.” – William Burroughs, Junky

We pull out from Tezpur, the most visually ill city I’ve ever seen. Whatever ails the place is very contagious for you are almost immediately infected with misery and loneliness. The bus has 50 seats, all taken, but conversation is impossible. Each passenger sits constructing his own private hell from the voids of places and people he left behind and would rather be with. The gloom leeches out of your skull, and paints everything the colour sad. Trees lean hungrily over the road, at places intruding with their vine-like tentacles, as if to juice out any remnants of life left in anyone forced to or foolish enough to venture into this circus of dark green bleakness. Often the sun is blocked out, and swamps are born where the soil can drink in no more rainwater, and is forced to vomit. Insects, nature’s shiny unalive jewels of neglect, parade about fearlessly and show themselves off. For every mosquito you kill, five shall take its place.

The ride turns into a sequence of five or six still lifes, repeating themselves randomly. One features sickly, half naked un-childlike children sitting outside a wooden shack, surrounded by malaria and the forest. In another they wave at you, unsmiling. A third shows an ugly shop or some ugly houses surrounded by ugly coconut trees shading an ugly stray dog or two. Like rot dissolving the dead hippo of Charlie Marlow’s cannibal crew, the next picture is of a dead bus or truck being either nursed back to illness or torn to scrap by frenzied, starved mechanic-like beings. Yet another shows the forest being defiled, stripped bare of its trees and undergrowth, to reveal a bare, brown and almost burnt landscape no less putting-off. One, both tragic and pathetically funny starred a sign saying ‘Beware of Elephants’ – a meaningless shibboleth from days when tuskers used to barge into the handful of huts as they pleased, stole rice wine, got drunk and went on killing sprees. The numbers, and the roles of hunter and hunted traded places, hence the sign’s redundancy. Some scenes are nothing but riotous explosions of wild cannabis. But the one image that hit the hardest spoke my state of mind’s language the clearest. In a visage dominated by the swamp, the only gushing of colour that broke the verdant, depressed sameness came from a dying banana tree. The swamp had crept up to its roots, drowning it from the feet up, and inciting a seemingly violent celebration of death in yellow. Deliverance, however it would be, would one day be happiness.

The bus pulls into an eating joint, and all are warned that the stop shall last only 15 minutes. Deciding to believe in my bladder and abstain from the mad-dash to the loo, I head off to the counter and buy myself a Coke and half a chow mien. The noodles are disappointingly good and I hate them. I want everything about this place to be the absolute pits, I want to have justification to be miserable, to not allow myself to be labeled just plain cranky. I am rescued by the flatness of the Coke, and with a contented smile I gulp down what tastes like machine oil, sugared ad nauseum. Cannabis, in glorious bloom surrounds the small eatery too. I pluck a flowering stalk and offer it to a 4 year old girl staring longingly at me and my Coke, and making me feel naked. She ignores it, and stubbornly refuses to let me swallow in solitude. So after finishing it, I hand her the empty bottle. It’s about as much a disappointment as she’s in a mood to take. She runs off to her parents, and I throw the stalk away. Just as the vacuum of the moment starts making me wonder how I’m going to keep from taking up smoking, not become an alcoholic or stay away from the dope, the bus starts honking and threatening to leave without us.

More of the same. Then the ride slowly changes - as we climb higher, pigs join the dogs on the roadsides, and the kids start smiling when they wave. We’re getting closer to Tenga. .