My father has always been a rather distant entity in my life. Always there, but never really. I’ve never exactly been petted by him, as is the case with most fathers in the Indian scenario. But two things that I hold fast to my heart till date are cards and carroms – games I shared with him, and those he excelled at.
It was pure joy to watch him deal a hand, shuffling them this way and that, and even more so for a child. He is a leftie which was unique itself then – the way he held his deck and flung them out in triumph. We’d sit in a circle, Father, his friends, their kids and I, and we’d play for hours even as our mothers chided us in the background. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him lose; he was great at cheating even. And carrom! He would always make the first strike, hitting the coins exactly at that sweet spot that never revealed itself to me even after years of persistent practice; I can still recall the awe I’d feel when he sent coins flying in four directions with that single strike, bagging four coins at once. Two blacks and two whites. And of course, the red queen would land in his lap in no time.
He had a drinking problem, and managed to gamble away a lot of money. As time went on, responsibilities and liabilities grew and Father quietened down. I cannot ascertain if the change was abrupt or gradual.. He refused to play with us anymore even when we pleaded. Maybe one round of rummy once in a while, but then those too stopped. Even as the drinking came down and he started getting a hold on his life, he was not the same fun person he used to be, and I do remember that I often wished he’d just drink, just so he’d look happy. The cards lay unused and gradually disappeared in the way things do, and the carrom board came to life infrequently when I had a random cousin or friend come over. Cracks developed on the board and the wood pealed at places and it was quietly put away. I too grew up.
A few days ago, some friends came together and organised a little party for Christmas on the roof of their house. Someone brought along a few decks of cards, and as I spread my share in my hand after more than a decade, I was reminded of the rare laughter and fun and frolic that I shared with Father. Fragile times. A huff and a puff and it all fell down. My childhood really was a house of cards.
When I left the party, I held on to a deck and took it back with me. For home.
I am bound by walls and chained by prejudices of my own making.
The weight upon my wings is not a storm but a sigh; the blemish on my face not a scar but a tear that I refuse to wipe away.
I pull a shroud upon my features and hide from the sun, not knowing that the fire I fear is burning me from within. That the hot breaths scald not my skin but my soul.
I search for paths, riddled ways away from home and yet cower in the shadows when the winds whistles to say it’s time. Never ready. Not now, not ever – for I am not a girl yet to come of age and learn of the world but a woman who makes a mockery of herself hailing change and recklessness and that touch of infinity on the sly, and still end up yearning for approval and compassion.
I reach for the skies and fall to ground.
No, I am not free.
For I refuse to be.
“Take care of yourself. You’re very important.”
That is what SV said as our conversation drew to a close. I had been rambling on for an hour about how horrible I felt lately, how the signs of depression seemed to be returning at a crucial point in my life. It felt good to vent to him; it always did. He always knew what to say.
And yet it’s those last words that really made a difference. He did not personalise it, did not smother the letters with a show of care; no ‘you’re important to me’ or ‘us’. Just important. Like an open ending to be interpreted as one wished, as if the whole world hid silently behind that last syllable. That my existence had a value that cannot be quantified by sheer numbers of aquientances, that maybe it extended to realms that I did not truly fathom.
I felt a ray of sunshine trickling in.
“When Parvaneh gives him a look studded with a long line of question marks and exclamation marks, the doctor sighs again in that way young doctors with glasses and plastic slippers and a stick up their bottom often do when confronted by people who do not even have the common bloody decency to attend medical school before they come to the hospital.”
This one sentence amused me more than anything else in the wonderful novel ‘A Man Called Ove‘ by Fredrik Backman. It has everything to do with the fact that on multiple occasions, I too have been that very young doctor (sans glasses) with a stick up my bottom who grows exasperated when the illiterate patients in front of me can’t comprehend the complications of a cerebrovascular accident or even pyelonephritis. Of course, the frustration was always fueled not so much by their ignorance as my incompetence in making them understand. But what truly amazed me on reading this was the realization that this phenomenon is not localized to our part of the world, with our overcrowded public hospitals and overburdened health system; that this is indeed a global phenomenon!
I remember my mother once warning me about how people go into medical school as humans and come out as robots, hardened by exposure and oblivious to common suffering. I looked at her then skeptically, but I realize it’s true – somewhere between dissecting cadavers and running around sleepless writing endless case notes, our souls crack from numbness; when frustration mounts it enlarges to a chasm that separates empathy from the methodological, the functional. And easily enough everything starts irritating us. ‘Wounded healers’.. the term stays with me a decade after reading Erich Segal’s Doctors.
Rising violence against doctors in India is a direct outcome of the same. Patients no longer lie docile when shows of irritation are meted out. Miscommunication is no longer pardonable. Time and again, the newspapers are filled with tales of health providers being manhandled for what is perceived as inadequate treatment. It is in times such as these that I pat myself on the back for opting to specialize in a non-clinical subject.
Neither side is to blame, really. It’s always lack of proper communication. Here’s hoping that both parties soon learn to empathize with the other’s plight in the future. Only then can we expect the untoward incidents to show a descending trend.
So my boyfriend complains of a splitting headache, and I graciously offer to massage his head in the event that he manages to procure a medicated balm to be smeared over his forehead.
He heads to a random medical store, and in his current affliction, stands there hesitating, trying to recollect what brand I had suggested.
The very understanding shop keeper nods, reaches down and hands across the counter a packet of condoms.
Some choices are like that;
Amusing for a moment
And tragic for a lifetime.
I had forgotten this part of you.
The part that cannot decipher my unspoken words. The part that inadvertantly steps over my silent cries for attention, because maybe you don’t suspect that I’m this frail. The part that not even tries to realise that I am struggling behind the weak smiles and half hearted statements. The part that mistakes the pause at the end of my replies; what I put forth as a comma, you perceive as a period and think no more about my broken sentences.
How then, can I expect you to mend all else that’s broken about me?