Friday, July 13, 2012

The mother of all allergies

I do not know why it never occurred to me to write about it. It’s unfair that I overlooked the undeniable role it has played in shaping my characteristic nature and the way people have sometimes looked at me. On the other hand, when was it ever too late to write about nasal allergy, eh?

Nasal allergy, wow, how is anybody ever going to be able to describe the feeling accurately? I’d like to approach it as a phenomena of blockage and leakage, alternating between nasal cavities in an uneven regularity, accompanied by severe itching of the nose, the nasal cavity, that is. An itch so intense in its ‘furry’, ‘pricky’ quality, it will draw tears from your eyes and cause you to produce window-pane shattering sneezes. Then, there is the dilemma of, 'do I blow it out or do I sniff it in'? followed by the annoying 'evasive sneeze'. I shall address all these in good time. If this were to be all, I’d call it a picnic but alas, allergens are unrelenting in their methods and creative in their manifestations;

Let’s take a look at blockage first. Every time I have had nasal allergy, that is, every morning of my life, one pattern has been constant. On waking up, one nose is blocked and the other, runny. Now if you are lying face up, turn to the side on which your nose is runny and you’ll see that the sludge from your blocked nostril will make a slow, lethargic shift to the runny side and the runny side will slowly fill up and wouldn’t be runny anymore. Yay? Not quite, cause now, your runny side is blocked and the other side is runny! What adds to the fun is that the blockage isn’t leak proof. If the nose block were a pea nut shoved up your nose, which in fact it does feel like ninety percent of the times, a ‘furry’ peanut at that, there will be liquid running down the side of it, seeping through, trying to peep out of your nostril, tickling and pricking its way out into the daylight. It looks ghastly, no doubt – a minute droplet peeing out of the nostril but it takes on a different level of grossness in mustached people, in whom, the rigid mass of moustache hair often cradles the fluvial mucus till the edge of the moustache from where it drops, dangling like an icicle temptingly over the lips. Mucus is the name of the runny, salty liquid your nose mass manufactures during such times.
More often than never the blockage turns steadfastly solid letting not a wisp of air though. You can’t even sniff the shit in and blowing wont help either. All you get out of the laborious blowing is a spray of good old mucus and no gold, what a waste of time. At such times, to go with the suffocating blockage, the runniness in the other nostril turns extra tickly, extra flow-ey, turning the tap full on which further prods the eyes to start watering. Ever compliant to the bidding of the nose, the eyes raise the waters. So, instead of turning from side to side in bed hoping that the goo inside would at last grow tired of passing from one nasal cavity to the other, make peace with yourself and take the day off, you cant do squat at work.

Now, the runny-ness. During nasal allergy, there is not one form of creeping or crawling the mucus in your nose wouldn't attempt. It usually doesn't act bothersome when you're standing or walking but when you're lying down, especially on your stomach, it gets to work. At first you ignore the feeling but in a few moments it starts to fade in, you can feel it creeping down slowly towards your nasal opening and if you're not careful you'll soon have a pendulous diamond dangling over your food, laptop or whatever it is you are pouring over. Runny-ness is the single most annoying aspect of nasal allergy. It makes the eyes water and the nose catch smells that don't exist.

The 'evasive sneeze' is a condition where a sneeze is manifestly about to begin, you crinkle your face and open your mouth and you're about to thrust, but then all of a sudden the sneeze disappears leaving you looking and feeling like a complete sod. As a child and now as a adult, I have often found myself at my wit's end as to how to deal with a situation where, you've opened your mouth to sneeze and people around you have braced themselves, your nostrils have flared, your neck, strained, your eyes, about to shut, hand holding handkerchief at the ready, head, ready to explode when the whole sensation disappears, your face relaxes and you sit back like nothing happened. 
The evasive sneeze is as common a feature to nasal allergy as weeping men are to Spanish television. It is an un-kept promise, an anti-climax, its how you would feel if you were about to achieve culmination and your mother suddenly walked in on you.

Nasal allergy and I have had a long standing association. My classmates were so used to the sight of me walking about with a handkerchief hanging from my mouth - oddly, it stopped my nose from running - it stopped being strange. Back in the day I would have an allergic condition three weeks in a month and my eyes were forever watery, nose forever leaking, tongue forever lolling, throat forever hoarse from sneezing loudly and pockets, forever stuffed with dripping handkerchiefs. 

What is the point of this? I frankly have little idea but it feels good. Cetrizine is a brilliant thing.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The mother

One dark, windy afternoon when she walked silently by the river, barefooted and alone, letting the breeze play little games with her hair, her eyes fell on a procession of ants. Listlessly she began following them and at length found them busily hovering around what looked like a red blob, she bent over to take a closer look. It was strawberry jam. Eatables from her house would be gone mysteriously. Especially the jam. Who kept taking the jam out? It was baffling!

She hated therapy. They kept telling her there was no one behind her but she couldn't stop looking over her shoulders every two minutes. She swore she saw shadows flitting past from the corners of her eyes, there were shadows trying to get out of her sight all the time. One day when she was alone at home she had suddenly felt a slight tug at her dress. Tiny goosebumps broke out all over her skin and she felt feverish. She broke down into hysterical sobs, crying like a child she collapsed onto the ground and pushed herself against the cabinets clutching the meat knife to her heart. It was the third time this week. Hours later she went to his room, to check.

She did not like silence or silent places. She was afraid she would hear something.

He was naughty, always hiding behind the grey, thick curtains.

She hated doors left ajar. Those dark, empty gaps were always full of possibilities, possibilities she wasn't sure she wanted to look at. She had near screamed at Vikki that afternoon when she had come all the way from Denver to see her at the clinic and had left the door slightly open while leaving for the canteen to fetch coffee and bagels.

She watched the doors at her house through the corners of her eyes. She sometimes strained her ears against the piercing silence for sounds, any sound, of creaking doors, turning doorknobs, scraping on the walls, breathing. A part of her almost wished she heard him.

Why, just the other night she woke up thinking someone had opened the main door downstairs. With a twisted, musical creak the door opened and then shut again with a thud. And then, the sound of footsteps. Little feet, non-rythmic, but assertive, flip-flopped on the wooden stairs that lead up to her bedroom and then stopped right outside her room.
He was always with her, he would never harm her or anything but he would never leave her either. He would keep her expecting, expecting him to show up, irrespective of where she was or what she was doing. And somewhere in her heart she wanted her little boy to come back to her.

When they fished him out of the river ten years back, she had cried. She wouldn’t let them take him away. She wanted them to take a bottle of his favourite strawberry jam with them when they were taking him away, all bundled up and tied to a stretcher. They didn’t and she was angry with them for it.

She never failed to leave a bottle of jam on the dining table downstairs before turning in every night.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Of sitting astride on the fire chariot, of reaching your arms out wide ahead, of gripping his reigns and letting him roar freely his full, arrogant roar, his wheels devouring the asphalt on his lone elephantine ride, he is the king of the road, the pasha of steel, over-lord of dust and grease, you’re his mahout, a humble cohort, your duty it is to set him free.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Mani once confessed to me during one of our drinking nights that he was afraid of his emotions. Mortally afraid. Although aside from the two of us, the pub was quite empty, he felt the need to lean over and almost whisper it to my ears. The reason he accorded to this strange trait was that he never had a single “pure” emotion.
His warm breath tickled my ears and I backed away, slightly uncomfortable. We were so close as friends, the occasional awkwardness was not entirely uncommon, but it wasn’t something I was willing to have at the back of my head, especially on one of these much awaited drinking nights. So I brushed the thought aside and turned to look at him putting on my best expression of confusion. A little stirred, he continued;
He said his emotions were always a cocktail. A cocktail he didn’t quite enjoy. He didn’t know whether to trust his gaiety, which, at any instance could just metamorphose to melancholy at the slightest of spurs. He didn’t know if the affection he felt for someone would the very next minute be replaced by irritation at the very sight of the person. It confused him.
“Bastardized”, sounded his drawling voice over the music. “Besmirched by the vagaries of life”, he said in a poetic flourish, throwing his hands up in the air for effect.
For Mani, anger was always ineluctably accompanied by guilt and love with fear; he would frequently get angry and sad and sad and angry with little sundry emotions scattered, ahead and behind in time. He never understood any of it.
Although he was known as one of the thicker guys in our group in college, he was well loved for his rather trollish affability. He was the quintessential gentle giant, at six foot three he was broad as a tree bark and quite intimidating to behold. But once you got to know him you couldn’t help but worry if the big baby would catch a cold while riding his rickety bicycle back home from college, or if he had been offended by something someone might have told him, or for that matter, if he had had his meals at all over the last few days.
Tonight our man was in a gin-inspired, philosophical state of mind and the last thing I wanted was to deny my buddy audience. I poured him another one.

He said; “I miss the days when being happy meant being happy, that’s it! You know, not happy and worried, that’s a qualified emotion, bloody adulteration…not being worried about Monday you know, love meant just plain, stupid love and lust meant lust, not love, friendship and…what’s the word to describe the emotion of friendship?”

“I don’t know…umm…attachment?” I said sheepishly.

“Dhut! That’s not it, Raj you’re drunk. Its bonhomie!”

“Nope, I don't think that’s an emotion either, Mani”

“Really?”, said Mani, scratching his massive head, “well, chalo, we need to get going, need to take the wife for her tennis classes and the son to the boutique…”, “nah, this ones on me", he said, shrugging off my hand extending a credit card, "...for attachment’s sake”

“You driving, Raj?”

“Of course, Mani, I am” said I.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The search party that had accompanied him to the forest had long scampered away. Their fears were confirmed. The forest was after all, unholy.

How fast they had run, village strongmen, big-talkers of valor, upholders of the protective powers of Hindu Gods, disbelievers, the police. He was left alone. Sticks, spades, swords, knives and sundry kitchen equipment the men had brought along for protection and a possible assault lay scattered around him. The many torches that lay on the ground shot dying beams of light in many directions creating a circle of light around where he stood. The circle closed in with every passing minute. The silence pierced his ears as he stood still thinking how he would make his way all the way back to the village.

Then he heard her sing. And for the first time Bhanu felt the cold of the forest. A tremendous chill gripped Bhanu’s sixty year old heart, displacing the grief that it housed in a single gripping moment with realization and he stiffened like a rock. It was the song he had taught her. It was their song. He now had reason to believe, reason to believe that it was her indeed.

His own grand-daughter? His own child? By what spiteful turn of fate had this come to be? What had he done to deserve this? What had the poor child done to deserve this?

It had been a year since she had disappeared into the forest. When the police grew tired of old Bhanu knocking at their doors day and night and sitting outside their offices refusing to leave had they decided to, for the sake of silencing the old man for the time being, take a casual stroll into the forest and take a look around. They entered the dark, cold and leafy interiors of the jungle bantering cheerfully and dangling their sticks and rushed out clamoring and excited. They had found her, floating face down in the fishpond. Bhanu’s world collapsed underneath his feet.

Much debating ensued as to how the girl had died. Many theories were thrown up, causes, from the imagined to the deduced, from the mildly reasonable to the outright bizarre, from the religious to the scientific, all were passionately argued, discussed at tea-shacks, homes and schools. But no one succeeded in so much as zeroing in one plausible cause. Bhanu amidst all this, sat gaping, lost.

Then began the killings. Whoever ventured around the precincts of the forest disappeared and was found a few days later, half eaten, somewhere deep inside the forest. The nature of the killings was particularly grisly which intensified the villager’s fear that the cause – which, for a considerable while was assumed to be a leopard or a tiger – couldn’t possibly have been an animal. And who would explain the cuts and scratches on the bodies, which the forensic babus from the city said had not been caused by claws, but alarmingly, by human nails.

This partly was responsible for the kernel of suspicion that had silently made its way into every villager’s heart. But they told Bhanu nothing. They loved the helpless old man.

Bhanu collapsed on his knees as the darkness enfolded him in it’s cold veneer and whimpered like a scared child. An odd mix of emotions welled up inside him as the distant voice of a fifteen year old came sailing to him clearly through the night air. The voice was strangely sweet and melodious. The voice was strangely unearthly, it belonged to another world. Bhanu felt tender love for his little Aarti.

Suddenly the singing stopped and Bhanu heard the soft crunch of foliage breaking somewhere behind him. He felt a warm breath behind his left ear.

Friday, March 2, 2012

She lived by herself in a small hut at the edge of the forest. The hut - surrounded by fences encircled a small area which she referred to as her garden as well her ‘farm’ – was constructed about five years back with the help of one of her brothers who had come down from an adjacent village where he lived with his family, to put together the house for her. He never charged her anything for it; at least that’s what he maintained. But she was after all his own little sister, she had ‘forced upon him’, as a token of her gratitude, some of her ‘special’ crops which she grew in the farthest corner of her farm, far removed from the other vegetable and flower plants. These special herbs grew quietly and rather unobtrusively at a lonely, ignored corner of the garden and were left in neglect on purpose. She knew he loved to roll them up in a paper and smoke them. It made him act funnily.

At a certain distance from where her hut was, on the banks of the fresh-water stream there lived a settlement. These people had come down the great road in the forest a few years before in caravans and in long lines carrying their belongings and children. Later, she had learnt from some of them, that they had once been citizens of a country far away and were banished from their motherland for having belonged to a lower caste.

What a strange reason for getting rid of so many people from their lands and uprooting them from their livelihoods, she had thought, but, there were a great many wrongs being done in the world that she had heard of from messengers, random passersby and travelers, and she dismissed this as merely one of them and got on with her life.

These people, a melee of about two hundred odd, men, women, children and old folk were the peaceful sort. They had established small trades and occupations at the banks of the stream and set up small vegetable and fish farms for a livelihood. Some of them became carpenters and some, lumberjacks, who would spend a great deal of time in the forests and return with logs of wood around afternoon. The wives, astonishingly, were the quiet types, fights were seldom and crimes rare. Brought together by an odd and tragic twist of fate, these folks lived in rather friendly terms with each other and often regarded each other in familial and friendly terms, as co-sufferers usually do.

Some of these people would at times come over and pay her a visit. A lot of them liked her cooking and didn’t mind bartering their services in exchange of her delicious beef stew. She, in turn, looked forward to the company. The little visits by these gentle people not only took care of a lot of her chores and repair work around the house but also earned her some money. But most of all, she looked forward to their company, to the hours of friendly banter, the loud singing and the banging of mugs of ale on her wooden table.
Scared of what wrath her thought might bring upon her, she became desperate to rid her mind of it. And in her desperation she thought of it more. Her mind imagined it for her. Without warning, it recreated her little thought into an imagery of vivid shapes and sounds. And what she saw sent frigid currents running down her back. Almost immediately little goosebumps burst out all over her fair arms making her skin feel taut. She felt scared yet oddly her nipples hardened and she felt slightly dizzy. Yanking out her hand from her panties she jumping off her bed frantically. She began pacing up and down her room trying hard, her hardest, to think of other things. Like when Anoushka was born, how the baby had bawled and how her mother, cradling the little Anoushka in her arms rocked her silently to sleep. She tried to think of her father driving in the new sedan through the gates of their house. She tried to think of happy things, of good things, yet the mind tenaciously held on to her thought like a child would a candy. No matter how hard she laboured, Vijaya couldn’t extricate the vision of herself urinating on the idol kept in the prayer room off her mind and it’s blasphemous eye.

She bunched both her wrists and struck the sides of her thighs violently. Jumping up and down she stomped the floor for a good few seconds, yet the thought wouldn’t go. Rushing to her table she flopped down and shut her eyes. She tried to imagine the idol sitting before her, decorated beautifully in flowers, redolent in the fragrance of incense and surrounded by devotees, many devotees, loving devotees, their heads hung and hands folded in concentrated prayer. Her lips began moving frantically, as she sought forgiveness from the deity for her ghastly vision. Hands folded she pleaded with her deity earnestly, apologising to him with a face screwed up with intensity. She waved her head slowly from one side to another to effectuate the intensity of her prayer, a range of supplicating expressions running across her beautiful face. Anybody else in the room would think that Vijaya, sitting at her table was begging, passionately to this invisible entity for mercy or for forgiveness for something ostensibly quite horrendous that she had committed. This would, of course, occur as an afterthought to the notion that poor Vijaya, must have gone quite mad.

Nevertheless, this imaginative trip did help a little. She saw the God nod his head and smile. He then raised his hand in a gesture of blessing and spoke in a stentorian yet gentle voice than seemed to boom from everywhere. He said;

“Fear not, little one. I am not angry at you. Although I do not understand the cause for such an imagination, you are forgiven. You have incurred no divine retribution young one. After all, it was I who invented teenage and puberty, I, who composed hormones, I….”

Vijaya brought her wrists down on the table hard and gritted her teeth. Damned mind.