Monday, August 15, 2011

Slap your cheeks at Dr.V - Part 2

(continued from 'Slap your cheeks at Dr.V - Part 1')

At last Mr.G closes the door behind the day’s first group of patients and those in the waiting room with the next 3 token numbers finally allow themselves to feel a flicker of hope. It looks like their trip isn’t going to be a waste after all. Their turn to stand on the hallowed ground is coming in a few hours. God is great indeed! Clutching their tokens inside a tight fist, they lean back on the hard stone bench with a sigh and will themselves to drift into a dream of Dettol, thermometer and Dr.V until Mr.G opens the door again to summon them.

Leaving them to their happy dreams, let’s join those on the other side of that door in Dr.V’s room. If I were you, I will hold on to something solid soon after you enter his room. Confused? Look below and you will notice that the floor has caved in (this building is a tribute to Chennai’s architecture) to form a nice little pit in the center of the room where Dr.V is sitting. What this means to you is unless you hold on to something for support, you will find yourself rolling on the floor to Dr.V’s feet whether you mean to kiss them or not. Fighting gravity on top of a cold and a fever is beyond the skill of most people so they usually dive for the bars on the window soon after they enter the room. When I was in that room during my recent trip, I remember holding onto a hook on the wall for dear life and looking down my nose adoringly at Dr.V.

Situated happily in the middle of the pit, Dr.V’s desk dominates the room and is populated by 2 palm-sized prescription pads, a manual blood pressure monitor and a torch that has surely seen better days. The rumor mill has it that curators from museums around the world have shown more than a passing interest in bidding for Dr.V’s torch and blood pressure monitor. This leads me to believe that they have not yet seen his hand washing bowl.

This is as good a work of art as I have ever seen. It is a big round white (I am 90% sure that it is white) porcelain bowl that Mr. B takes great pain in filling with fresh water every morning so that the Doc can wash his hands between his trips to the Injection room. You can see several black markings on the inside of the bowl giving it a nice eerie look. I hope Dr.V has the inner strength to turn down the fortune that I am positive he will get for this bowl should he ever decide to auction it. It will be a dark day indeed when the clinic will be left bereft without its icon of cleanliness. My father has a smaller version of this bowl that he uses even to this day in his daily shaving ritual. So far we have managed to keep the curators away from his door but I wonder if my Dad knows that he is sitting on a golden goose?

Coming back to Dr.V’s room, watch the first patient swing her way to the chair next to Dr.V. This chair is said to have medicinal qualities of its own because many patients, like my mom, start feeling better the minute they sit here. For ease of narration, let us assume that my Mom is the patient on that chair now and to preserve her identity, I shall refer to her as ‘Ambujam’ from here on out.

Dr.V – Come Ambujam. Is your leg bothering you again?

Mom – Oh, I wish it were that simple Doc. You know how the children have all come for vacation and how much work there is at home. I am not as strong as I used to be. The servant maid has not come for 2 days. Apparently there was a death in her family and she had to go to the village. Poor girl, what can she do? Sometimes, if you have to go, you just have to go.

Dr.V – Alright Ambujam, what is the problem today?

Mom – When I wake up in the morning, I have such palpitations and feel so weak. My leg feels like wood and my hip hurts all the time. Sometimes, I feel dizzy and not feel like getting out of bed. Can you give me some pills to quickly fix these problems? As you know, I have so much work to do at home. Oh, I almost forgot. 3 days ago, I ate some mangoes…I know, I know that I should not eat mangoes with my diabetes but you know how people bring mangoes when they come to visit you. Children these days don’t eat as well as we used to, Doc. I can’t really let all those mangoes go to waste now, can I? But don’t worry. I immediately made some bitterguard curry and compensated for all that sugar. I pray to God everyday for good health but I guess He is busy with other things.

Dr.V – There is nothing wrong with you Ambujam. You are aging, that’s all. I will give you an injection to stop the palpitations and give you some pills to help with your body aches and pain. Just tell your guests not to buy so many mangoes next time. Here is your prescription. Give it to G, he will get your pills ready and you go wait in the injection room for me. I will be there soon. (soon???? Yeah, right Doc.)

– oh, thank you Doc. I knew I would feel better just talking to you. While I am here, can you talk some sense into our Meena here? She doesn’t eat anything healthy. No good vegetables or fruits. Can a person really live on potatoes alone? I am making myself sick worrying about her all the time.

Dr.V simply smiles and nods at the next patient to take the chair that my Mom just vacated but if you think that my Mom is done with Dr.V, you are naive indeed. Patients like my Mom believe in making full use of the consulting fee that they pay the Doctor. My Mom gives the chair to the next patient willingly enough and stands on the side continuing her conversation(??) with Dr.V. She wants to know if she should eat the pills before food or after food; she wants to know if drinking Oats with buttermilk first thing in the morning will cure her diabetes; she wants to know if it is alright to walk only 10 minutes a day instead of the 30 minutes that Dr.V suggested to her before; she wants to know how to reduce weight without having to give up on any of her eating pleasures.

Dr.V spends 8 hours a day treating patients like my Mom. Dr.V’s baldness may not be genetic after all.

Two doors lead away from Dr.V’s room – one to the Injection room and the other to what can be loosely termed as a 'Pharmacy'. The compounders Mr. G and B are the kings of this little kingdom where they cook up their magic to deliver the medicines to the patients. Potions are lovingly packed in little glass bottles and pills are wrapped up in newspapers of yesteryears. After collecting your bundle of miracle from Mr.G, move through the door on your right to the Injection room.

Dr.V’s Injection room is a small rectangular room with one long wooden bench and one straw chair - all for the comfort of his dedicated patients. A shelf mounted on the wall houses a gasoline stove over which an old pot sits. Mr. B periodically boils water in this pot to sterilize the syringes and other things. As you sit on the wooden bench there to begin the long wait for Dr.V, Mr. B will promptly come and collect your prescription and prepare the syringe with medicine that is to be administered by Dr.V. You can't help but admire the way Mr. B makes the whole business of preparing syringes look so easy. A dozen or so shoe boxes filled with different medicines decorate the cabinet at the corner of the room and guess who has the key to this cabinet? Mr.B, that's who. Talk about power!

The wait for the Doc. continues in the Injection room. You can safely take a nap and a half before Dr.V will walk through this door to administer the shots. By that time, you will find yourself literally rubbing elbows with other patients who are crammed up in the small Injection room with you waiting for their chance at a shot by Dr.V's hands. As the door swings open finally to let Dr.V in, patients stand up as much to show respect as to stretch their stiff joints. Folks start to roll up their shirts/blouses even before Dr.V begins to call out their names to step forward. Dr.V's injection is not for the frail-hearted, let me warn you. The big fat syringe looks intimidating enough to make Superman call out for his mommy so don't feel bad if you do the same.

When at long last, you stretch your arm in front of Dr.V and he pulls out the big needle out of you, the Sun is already making his way down West. The epic journey is finally over and rubbing your arm with the cotton swab that the Doc gives you, you can walk out of the clinic to greet the outside world that is eagerly waiting for you.

(the end)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Slap your cheeks at Dr.V!

Over 2 weeks ago, Chennai spread her hot and humid arms wide open to welcome me warmly through her doors and just like with all my previous visits to India, I found myself in a hurry to visit Dr.V, our family physician. It is a time-honored tradition for me to go pay Dr.V a visit as soon as I get into town. I think of it as sort of like going in for a quick oil-change. One big, fat injection,a handful of pills and I usually find myself back in smooth, working condition.

Dr.V and our family go way back. He has known me ever since oral spurting became the most important daily ritual for me from the age of 3(somehow the word 'vomiting' sounds like a dirty word in a public forum). I know the black and white 'Welcome' portrait in his clinic's waiting room, not to mention the long whip of a lizard gracing its walls, as well as I know my two sisters.

For as long as I have known him, Dr.V has sported the most wonderful bald head that I have ever known. It has always gleamed like a polished granite countertop and when seen along with the thin-rimmed spectacles that is always perched high on his nose, it gives him an air of such supreme intellect. To this intellect, add a regal form of over 6 feet with a build to match that towering height and voila, you have a doctor who exudes competence, confidence and charm in equitable proportions . Just as I know that the Sun never rises in the West, I am positive that Dr.V never comes to his clinic in anything but a pair of smartly tailored slacks, a crisp full-hand shirt and a solemn tie.

A day out to Dr.V's clinic is anything but ordinary but without giving you a virtual tour of the clinic at this time, it is hard to explain why. Located just off a busy main road, Dr.V's clinic looks just like any other building in the street. Stray dogs and nomadic cows compete constantly to assert their supremacy as the uncrowned kings of the neighborhood and do their beastly best to block anyone from going through the gate. If you have the wiles to sneak between them, the long-winding entrance ramp leads to a rectangle waiting room where the norm is hard stone benches and simple cushionless straw chairs. There is no pretense of elegance anywhere in this clinic but you will agree at the end that the obsessive streamlining of the clinic's operations more than makes up for the lack of elegance.

As you climb the ramp to enter the waiting room, it pays to be agile and alert. On your march...get RUN! Run like the wind! Better yet, run like PT Usha! Run to the little hole in the waiting room wall for it holds the magic key to the doc's room - your token. You don't stand a chance of seeing the doc without this token so grab the one from the top of the pile. While running for your token, if you find the mob of patients running alongside you resorting to devious methods to push you aside to reach the token stand first, don't be coy and don't be subtle. Take your elbow and aim for their ribs. After all, it is common knowledge that only the strongest survive in this world.

Ok, now you have your red token (so it doesn't quite look like red but come on, give them a break. For ones that have been in use since 1974, they don't look all that bad, do they?) and it reads 8. What do you do now? Well, if you are willing to give meditation a try, grab a seat and start practising some mind-control techniques because it will be a while before you lay eyes on Dr.V.

If my memory serves right, Dr.V has had two compounders under his payroll forever - Mr.G and Mr. B. I have never known any compounders who can wield such enormous power in a clinic. Take Mr.G. Every once in a while, he will open the door to the waiting room and bellow out 3 token numbers - (for example 1,2,3) and no less than 30 people will trip over themselves to reach him with such gratitude dripping out of their eyes. It never fails to move me to see the tears of joy and gratitude in their eyes. But Mr.G is a stoic one. The many years of working under Dr.V must have given him the maturity to not take all this fawning to heart. You will see him standing firm as a soldier at the door ensuring that no one without a token passes through . As for 30 people rushing in for 3 token numbers, the math has never added up for me but the important thing is it apparently did to Mr.G.

Lucky are these folks who pass through the formidable Mr.G to enter Door#1, for their epic journey has finally started. Through this gate, they get their first glimpse of the great Dr.V. I even have vague childhood memories of folks slapping their cheeks gently in a show of reverence as they stand before Dr.V finally, just like in Thirupathi. It may be a while till they see the outside world again.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mommy booth is now open !

One of these days, the inevitable may finally dawn on you that vegetating in front of a television is no guarantee for your happiness and health. Or you may just feel social one evening and get this friendly urge to stop by our house for a nice cup of coffee and snacks with a bit of lively, spirited conversation on the side. Whatever the reason might be, I urge you to please check the calendar first before you knock on our door. If ‘x’ marks the spot on Sunday, I suggest that you reconsider.

Please don’t get me wrong. We love company and have been known to be spirited and lively on occasions. It is just that on a Sunday evening, you may find more cheer in a funeral home. As breakfast gives way to lunch and lunch gives way to snacks on Sundays (btw, the hands on my internal clock always read Breakfast, Lunch, Snack and Dinner as opposed to the usual 3, 6, 9 and 12 on a regular clock), we, the Sankarans, find ourselves transforming from deliriously happy to decidedly depressed and unlike Cinderella, we manage this without the aid of a chubby godmother and an orange pumpkin. If you ever hear us whimpering, you can bet your next meal (sorry, I don’t take any chances on my meals) that Monday is not too far away.

I have come to call this strange phenomenon the ‘Smile-free Sunday’ syndrome. To us, Fridays are for fun, Saturdays are for snoozing and Sundays are for sadness. With my head held high, I proudly declare here that we beat moaning Myrtle fair and square in the battle of the Whimpering Wimps of the weekend.

Past noon on any given Sunday, my children embrace unhappiness like it is their favorite grandmother. When the clock strikes one and the mouse goes down (Hickory Tickory Tock…helllooooo???), a magic spark goes off somewhere inside the deep, dark recesses of their memory and sets them off in a maddening frenzy around the house in search of homework assignments and projects that, they suddenly remember, were due the previous decade. Thoughts of the many forgotten quizzes, tests and project deadlines lined up for the upcoming week pop up just then to haunt my poor kids to profuse sweating if not premature aging. Beautiful dimples start to dissolve in a quagmire of nerves, fear and despair leading to wobbly lips and fresh tears. All through the evening, you can find them alternatively rubbing their stomachs and foreheads in an effort to dislodge that invisible ball of lead that seems to have not only pitched a tent but also applied for a social security number in there.

Believe it or not, my children are convinced of a supreme cosmic conspiracy that deprives them of precious minutes on a Sunday by making all the clocks in our household tick faster than usual. What sounds like the regular rhythmic tick, tock, tick, tock to me somehow sounds like a super fast, furious bull tearing up a Rodeo field to my children. This is the same conspiracy that, according to them, sends the Sun sliding down the horizon in a hurry on that day. Of course, I know better than to dispute such comic (no typo here) conspiracies.

Usually I am all for keeping the lines of communication open with children but Sundays are the sole exception. I never initiate conversations with my kids past noon on Sundays because they always mistake the slightest movement of my lips to be a special invitation to break down and cry their hearts out. Call me a terrible parent if you want but I am tired of getting my good clothes soaked every Sunday under these sad tears. So much so that I am seriously considering buying myself a special Sunday ki Sunday bib that reads ‘Monday is coming and the Mommy booth is now open for your tears’.

At last we cross the twilight time zone that is between snacks and dinner on Sunday and the crescendo spirals up in a steady rhythm going from sniffling to sobbing to sulking and finally erupts into the inevitable resignation when our clock strikes Dinner. An eerie calm settles down on our home at this time. Trembling lips are bitten down, backbones are straightened, chins are jutted out and the inhabitants of the Sankaran land brace themselves to face whatever monster Monday has in store for them.

As the dinner table is cleared, I take my cue to heave a sigh of relief and go in search of Erma Bombeck’s essays to learn how to smile again until the next smile-free Sunday.

Do you still dare to knock on my door on a Sunday evening? Better yet, can I knock on yours?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Make way for Meena!

As I sat watching the Academy Awards on TV last weekend, it occurred to me that I am totally unprepared to go on a stage to receive an award if the need ever arises.

If you must know, I did clear my mantel a few years ago in anticipation of receiving the Pulitzer prize but darn those folks at the selection committee there. They are too picky. It is not enough that I write. It seems they are looking for quality in writing too. Where does this greed stop, I ask you? Well, I may still be batting at zero in the Pulitzer game but it is early days yet. Bigger miracles have been known to happen. And even if Pulitzer slips through my fingers, I feel confident that I have a good shot at getting nominated for this decade’s ‘The Ultimate Nagging Mom’ award. I am not picky. Really! Either one will do for me.

When that day comes, am I really ready to walk the red (or blue or gray or black) carpet and claim my rightful place on the stage? Do I have the right outfit in my wardrobe for the occasion? What about the acceptance speech? Have I practiced enough to get my eyes to sparkle with unshed tears of joy and my lower lip to tremble ever so gently in a show of nerves and frailty? Oh boy, talk about emergency preparedness! I really have my work cut out for me before my day of glory.

Let’s start with the outfit first. None of the items in my wardrobe will do, I am sure. They are too decent to qualify. They cover all parts of my body, for God’s sake. I need something that fits me like a second skin and leaves nothing to imagination. It would be better if the fabric closely resembles a potato sack except that it definitely has to be very sparkly. I will not compromise on that. After all, I want to fit in, not stick out like a sore thumb there. If I can somehow find an extra large fabric bow in red that I can hook on to my bottom, I will be all set.

I am not worried about the acceptance speech though. I have seen enough Oscar awards to know how to write it but it is not just the speech but the whole theatrical delivery of it that I need to work on. I will start by practicing to look dazed at the audience with the ‘I can’t believe I made it to this stage’ look. It won’t be easy but if anyone can do it, I believe I can. I will also have to practice how to fan my face for the next several seconds to portray a desperate attempt to prevent my tears from spilling over and ruining my mascara. That is a must. That will set the tone for what is to follow.

Now for the speech – I will have to prepare a list of all the important people in my life. After all I don’t want to leave anyone’s name out in my ‘thank you’ speech and hurt their feelings. That will be unkind of me. Hmmm…..let’s see. What was the name of that wrinkled old woman who came around to bathe me when I was a week old baby? I can’t believe I forgot her name. Anyway, I will make a note to check with my mom. Then, what about the bus driver who drove me to school every single day of my formative years? I can’t leave him out now, can I?

Of course I will be thanking my mom, my dad, my sisters, my husband, my children, my dog, my brothers-in-law, my nieces, my nephews, my neighbors, my friends, my clients, my teachers, my students, my postman, my lawn maintenance guy and my plumber. Oops! I almost forgot about the handyman. And if someone in the audience feels the urge to start pulling out their hair at the monotony of my speech, it is just too bad. I would rather have the entire gathering snore in boredom than leave out thanking anyone of these important people in my life.

Whew…….that was exhausting but I think it will be worth the effort. I feel mentally ready now to put on the show of my lifetime. Step aside Natalie Portman.  Move over Colin Firth. It is time to make way for Meena Sankaran. Now if only I could find a sparkling potato sack with a red bow! Life will just be peachy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Oh no.......not again!

There is no use denying the truth when it has you firm by your hair. Some people can acknowledge the truth even if it slightly taps them on the shoulder. Others may face it if it gets up and stares them in the face. Me? I do it only when it yanks hard on my hair and kicks me a few times in the shin. And five times is one too many even for me and I have finally decided to face my truth.

I am a danger to all my music teachers and there is no point sugar-coating it anymore.

When I was a little girl long, long ago, so long ago, my parents heard me singing in the shower one day with gusto and not willing to lose any time, they enrolled me immediately in an instrumental music class. And since then, they made it their life's goal to nurture my instrumental skills and (note this) only my instrumental skills. Innocent that I was, I fell into that trap easily and gave up the pleasure of singing in the showers only to take up mimicking the instrumental sounds even in the sanctity of my shower at the passionate plea of my parents.

I grew up, got married, moved across seas and continents and all of a sudden, one day it dawned on me that I was the victim of a cruel conspiracy. Singing in the shower is as sacred a civil right as freedom of speech and I had given it up without as much as a picket-line protest. How clever they had been! Made me wonder how much the residents of 79th street had paid to have my parents stop me from singing? And how dare they? The rebel in me was outraged at the monumental injustice done to me. With the tight-lipped determination of one who had been unjustly wronged, I decided to take fate into my own hands and at last find a music teacher to train me vocally. And find her, I did.

Eager as a puppy, I attended my classes without fail each week and got through the basics successfully only to find that she had, one day, decided to quit her job, sell her house and move across the many states of United States. Why? To continue her higher education, according to her. Yeah, right! Come now, one has to get up pretty early in the morning to fool Meena. I should have known then that something was wrong, mighty wrong, in the State of California.

I found teacher#2 soon enough and picked up where I left off. Geethams turned to Swarajathis and Swarajathis turned to varnams and just then what did my dear husband do? Oh nothing earth-shattering except that he had decided he didn't like California as well as he thought he had and was now convinced that greener pastures were awaiting us on the eastern seaboard. Not again..... With the lusty sigh of a repeatedly injured woman, I bid a melancholic farewell to teacher #2 and got on the plane already busy plotting to find my next victim aka teacher.

After moving into my next home, fate gave me an opportunity to visit my family in India and I, in a delusion of grandeur, decided to push my luck and ask one of the leading vocalists in town (I will refer to her as Madam X in this post) if she would give me lessons while I was there on vacation. Giddy with joy at my good luck when she agreed, I knocked on her door promptly for my first class. She was everything I had expected her to be and more and I sat down to eagerly learn the Thodi Varnam from her and left a happy person at the end of the first session.

Please note that when I parted from her that day, I left her in no doubt about my intention to return the next day, same time, same place for the second session. As I was busy that night listening to the recording of the class and struggling to get a grip on the slippery notes of Thodi ragam, I got a call on my cell phone. ‘Hello, is this Meena? I am Madam X’s mom. I am afraid that my daughter won’t be able to take classes for you anytime soon. You see, soon after you left today, she doubled over with a bad stomach ache, vomiting and such and has now been admitted to the hospital. By the way Meena, don’t call us. We will call you.’ Oh Wow! Poor Madam X! She was looking the picture of health only that afternoon. Anyway, that is the story of music teacher# 3.

As one who is not so easily broken, I continued my search and found teacher#4. I decided to be smart this time around and found a teacher who gave online lessons. You see, she could pack up and move everyday if she wanted. Since I would only be a Skype call away, she definitely could not flick me away on that pretense. Patting myself on the back for that clever idea, I started my lessons with her and found her to be just as wonderful as all the previous teachers. Just when I was convinced that my luck had changed for good, she simply vanished from the face of the earth one day. Poof, just like that. Hmm…..hellooooooo! …student waiting here!!!!!!!! Apparently, she got too busy and so got too tired and decided to drop a few students. Darn it! What rotten luck that I had to be one of them. Makes me want to question my faith in God sometimes.

Had I known, I would have gladly shipped her a few dozen cases of Glucose-D drink to help her regain her strength. Or I would have happily given up half of my class hour so she could take a nap. I would have accommodated her needs so why couldn't she? I know that whining is unattractive, okay? That is why I am trying to do it in little easy-to-digest spurts.

Okay, I was back at square#1 yet again (square#1 is starting to feel like home considering how many times I land here) with my thinking cap on. Alright, let's see here. I needed a teacher who would not find it so easy to run away from the task in the future? Of course! Why didn’t I think of this before? My good friend’s husband, that's who. He not only lives minutes from my home but also happens to be a phenomenal singer. Duh! Sometimes I can be a little slow, I admit.

Okay, teacher #5 proved to be the answer to all my prayers and finally, things were looking up for me so much so that I was thinking of breaking open a 'Panneer Soda' bottle to celebrate. 'Not so fast' said fate. My 'All zz well' bubble burst tragically when I heard of the sad news that teacher#5 has been diagnosed with a nodule in his voice and has now been advised by doctors to rest his voice completely as part of the cure. Oh no, not again! Poor guy! He totally doesn’t deserve it.

That’s it! I am done. I give up. I refuse to inflict such pain on mankind anymore.

Could there be any more doubts about this? The minute a music teacher signs me up, the seven year reign of ‘Shani Bagawan’ starts for him or her. All kinds of unspeakable horrors await them. They fall sick, lose their jobs, lose their homes or find themselves too tired to face life. How could I, in good conscience, do this to anyone else ever?

The day is not far when twitter is going to be buzzing with the tweet ‘Health Hazard Warning: Teach Meena at your own risk.’

Sigh, sigh, sigh…….