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The Silent Screams

It was one of those nights in the emergency Room, when one just could not escape the constant flow of incoming patients. Everyone had their hands full, from the doctors and the nursing staff, to the sanitary staff cleaning up gunk and vomitus from the hospital floor. While the groggy eyed pharmacist blinked multiple times to make sure that he dispensed the right dosage, the lab technician was trying to answer the phone which was ringing off the hook, with doctors and nurses trying to track the lab tests they sent a few minutes back.

The area around the hospital was quite, as if a dark cloak had enveloped the entire town. The flickering street lamps were the only source of light in an otherwise cold and dark night. Moti, the friendly street dog was trying to nestle against a heap of sand dumped beside an abandoned pole. His occasional whines as he tried to get into a comfortable position was the only sound cutting through darkness.

Back in the ER, the scenario resembled that of a battlefield. Every time a new patient was brought on a stretcher, the first line of defense rushed forwards with their respective weapons. Some grabbed on to the BP apparatus while others held on to their stethoscopes as they jogged towards the patient.

As I walked in, I was completely taken aback. It was utter chaos. I could hear an intern on the far end of the room screaming at the top of his voice as he confirmed something with the senior doctor who had his hands full trying to stop a kid from seizing. Someone on bed 7 was constantly retching and throwing up whatever they ate for dinner, and the man next to him was groaning in agony as the orthopedic surgeon tried reducing his dislocated patella back to its place.

Despite everything going on, I had no time to stop and stare. As soon as I entered, I was asked to assist another duty doctor who was assessing the situation in Bed no. 1. As I pulled back the curtains a little bit and stepped inside, I heaved a sigh. It was a young boy, probably only 11 years old. His entire face was covered in blood and it looked like his nose and jaw had been broken.

“Good, you’re here”, the duty doctor said as he removed his gloves and threw them into the bin.

“RTA”, he nodded towards the boy “They brought him a while back. Hit by a guy on a motorbike while he was trying to cross the road. He has fractured his nose and his maxilla from what I can tell. We have called for maxillo-facial surgeon, they’re on the way. He is stable and conscious, just make sure you ask him to constantly spit out the blood that is building in the back of his throat. I don’t want him to aspirate”

I nodded, trying to keep up with everything he was saying. But I’d just then noticed another person along with the patient. Another boy. This one was so small, that I completely missed him earlier.

“Oh, that’s the patient’s younger brother”, the doctor said noticing who I was looking at. “We, tried to get him to leave but he threw a big tantrum, refusing to leave his big brother’s sight. Anyway we need the patient awake, so maybe this little guy can help with that”

I stayed back with them, trying to do my job. The elder brother couldn’t speak. All he could do was scream. Silently. It was heart wrenching to see the smaller brother holding the patients hand, calling him over and over again. “Anna… Anna”, he called his brother, his voice feeble and muffled, with tears and snot running down his face. I could tell that the patient was trying to be brave for his younger sibling and not show his pain. But I could feel his whole body trembling and vibrating from trying to hold in his screams.

Eventually, the maxilla-facial surgeon came and the patient was rushed to the operating room. The ER was also starting to settle in. Most of the patients were either sent back home after the appropriate treatment or transferred to their respective wards.

I was on my way back from the OR, where I’d gone to check on the face trauma patient. I saw his family waiting outside, the little boy waiting with his parents. He was distraught, his lips moving to form the same words over and over again. “Anna… Anna…”

As I trudged back to the ER looking at the white tiles on the hospital floor, reflecting the bulbs on the roof; I couldn’t help but wonder if the human body was even capable of screaming silently. As I dragged my feet on the floor and made by way to the ER, trying to make sense of my wandering thoughts, I suddenly heard someone calling me.

“Madam, Madam… Come here”, I looked up to see our Hospital security guard beckoning me. “Fast, fast”, he urged as I jogged up towards him.

“What happened, Anna”, I asked, confused. He was standing in front of the entrance for the Emergency Room. He pointed at the auto-rickshaw in front of him. “They need a doctor, but they are refusing to come in”

I was even more perplexed. Even though, it has been only a few days since I started my rotations in the ER, I had never seen anyone treating a patient literally on the doorstep.

“Call the mainline in the ER and ask them to send someone else”. I made my way towards the auto-rickshaw, confused more than ever. As I approached the black and yellow vehicle, I could see a few heads popping out of it. I could tell there were four or five people inside the vehicle that at its best was fit for three people. The whispering increased with every step I took towards them.

“What happened?” I asked.

“We need a doctor”, I heard a woman say.

“I am doctor”, I said grabbing on to my stethoscope for more conviction.

“Well, in that case”, said someone else, this time a man. He was sitting in the front seat along with a driver. Half his butt was in the air as he was trying to share one seat with the rickshaw driver. He was craning his neck a weird angle trying to talk to me. “Can you please check my daughter-in-law?”

“Yes, why don’t you get her inside? We will arrange for a stretcher and you can bring her in. What happened, where is-”, before I could finish my sentence, two women stepped out of the rickshaw and it looked like they were trying to get somebody else out. The two women who had already stepped out, were holding the head end of the person, and two more people inside that tiny auto-rickshaw were holding on to the legs of this person.

My jaw dropped open. Before I could even say anything, the man in the front seat, who was still seated said, “We can’t bring her inside. We just want you to tell us if she is alive or dead”

“But, what happened”, I asked aghast.

“We found her like this”, someone from inside the vehicle whispered.

“I can’t check her like this”, I tried explaining. “You have to get her-”

“Please”, one of the women held my hand pleading, “We just want to know if she is alive. We don’t want to get caught in the hospital policies. We know if she is dead, then they won’t return us the body until the cause of the death has been established. We can’t have that. If she is gone, we just want to bury in peace. We don’t want her soul wandering around troubled because of the delay in the burial process.”

The woman’s eyes were bloodshot, her hair falling off her bun. She looked on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

“Just check and see if she has a pulse”, shaking the young girl’s hand in front of me. “Please” she wept, “I just want to know if my daughter is go-gone”

“But I-”, I tried explaining the distraught mother. I looked at the girl’s face, which was still nestled between both women’s hands.

All I could see was her face. Her head and the rest of her body was covered in religious black clothes. She was beautiful, her skin pale and translucent. I could make out the veins under her skin, even under the flickering yellow street lamp. Her eyebrows were the perfect shape and even her winged eyeliner looked undisturbed. A few tendrils of hair had escaped her scarf and were framing her face. She looked like she was in deep sleep, unperturbed by everything around her. As her mother shook the girl’s wrist her head bobbed ever so slightly and a few more tendrils escaped. She looked so serene and peaceful.

I was almost in a trance, staring at her face, when her mother thrust her wrist on to my hand. I wasn’t even thinking when I grabbed her hand…

All of a sudden it was as if a curtain had lifted. The girl’s hands were cold and clammy to touch. Before I could even feel for a pulse, I heard footsteps behind me.

“What’s going on here?” It was the duty doctor from earlier. I got startled by his voice and dropped the girl’s hand and it hung down oscillating like pendulum before stopping. The girl’s mother explained the whole situation to the duty doctor.

“I’m sorry”, he tried explaining to her calmly. “But we can’t declare someone dead, when half their body is hanging out of a rickshaw. Please get her inside, we will need to do a series of tests before arriving at any conclusions. Even though it may look like she is not breathing, she could be in severe shock. If you get her inside, we will do everything we can. But you’re running out of time.”

The mother buried her head in her hands as she heaved. It seemed like she was reciting a prayer, her body trembling with grief.

Before she could say anything, the man sitting in front, stepped outside. He was very tall, and he towered over the doctor as he asked him, “Can you tell us if she is dead or alive?” His voice was cold and emotionless. “If you don’t… we will go to another hospital that will”

“I am sorry”, said the doctor firmly, “we can’t tell anything like this. There are some tests we need to do before declaring someone dead. Please get the patient in-“

“You, and your god damn tests”, the man mumbled angrily.

Chalo, chalo”, he told the other two woman and tried shoving the other two woman back into the auto-rickshaw. This proved to be difficult since half of the girl’s torso was hanging out. Hurriedly they got back in, the girl’s head hitting the sides of the rickshaw as they tried fitting her inside the small vehicle. I didn’t even want to imagine at what angle the poor girl’s body must be bent in, mushed alongside all those woman. The man angrily got back in the auto-rickshaw muttering as to how there are other and better hospitals in the town.

Their auto-rickshaw left trotting on its three wheels and we barely exchanged a sigh of exasperated confusion, when another auto rickshaw rolled in front.

“What now?” the security guard exclaimed. I’d almost forgotten that he was also there, witnessing the crazy that just happened.

This auto was empty, but we were still wary when the guard approached the driver.

“Did some people come with a dead girl?” he asked. “Did they come inside?”

The security guard looked back at us, wondering what to say. We shrugged back, we were as confused as him.

“No, they didn’t come in”, the guard replied. “What happened? Are you with them?” he asked hopeful that we finally might get some answers.

“What? No!!” He was disgusted and angry that the guard would even suggest something like this. “They had gone to another hospital before, demanding a doctor to tell if that girl was alive or dead. When the doctor refused and asked them to get the patient inside, they left. I was dropping another patient when I witnessed the scene. I smelt something fishy, so I followed them.”

The guard informed him that they had already left, and driver left trying to catch them before he loses sight.

There were no words to describe how strange and confused I was feeling. Who was that girl? What happened to her? What did she go through? Was she really dead? I had not gotten a chance to feel her pulse. And why were they being followed?

These questions were still on my mind as I walked back to my hostel after my shift, thinking about that poor girl. I sincerely hoped she was checked in to a hospital. With her body covered head to toe in clothes, it was difficult to infer if she had been hurt. I couldn’t get her face out of my mind. She had looked so peaceful as if she were resting after a long and tiring day and couldn’t be bothered with anything else.

I felt drained, emotionally and physically. I tossed and turned in my sleep that day. I was having vivid dreams.

The girl in the black clothes was in my dreams, but she was lying on the hospital bed, in Bed no. 1 to be exact. Her eyes were still closed and she looked like she was sleeping. The small boy was sitting beside her, tugging at her hands weeping for her to wake up. As I approached her, the small boy wept harder and I could tell that the girl was taking gentle breaths. Her chest moved slightly. I approached her even closer. She still looked so peaceful, it was as if her whole body was glowing. I was still looking at her when everything vanished, the little boy, the hospital bed. Everything.

She was levitating midair. Her clothes flowing in the wind. Her scarf had come undone and her long beautiful hair flowed in the wind. I couldn’t help the temptation. I really wanted to touch her. Was this true? I stepped closer, and I touched her hands lying crossed, resting on her abdomen. This time around, her hands were warm. Too warm, as if she was warming them by the fire. I looked at her face again. Her eyes were open and she was looking at me and smiling. But her eyes… there was something wrong with them. They were clouded.

Before I could tell her anything I heard sound of gravel and shovel. Someone was dumping soil on her. She still kept looking at me, her eyes open a lazy smile on her face; but I saw her body being covered bit by bit. When it covered her face, I could tell she was having trouble breathing and she wanted to scream at them to stop, but she couldn’t.

I woke up, drenched in sweat and out of breath, as if I ran a marathon. I couldn’t remember what I was dreaming about, but for the second time that day I found myself wondering. Are we capable of screaming… Silently.

Don’t choose love

For the longest time, you thought being in love was wonderful. But the truth has been a rather bitter surprise, hasn’t it?
It’s a fucking cliche but it’s true. The only way to know if it’s true love is if it hurts. Because if it doesn’t hurt, then it’s not love. The more it hurt, the deeper was your love!

Most of us learn this the hard way.
They say that it’s better to have loved and lost than not have loved at all. Well I’ve got news for you. “They” are a bunch of sadist masochists. I am well aware that it’s an oxymoron. Here’s why… Masochists because they like to dwell in this pain and sadists because despite having been through that terrible ordeal, they make up quotes like the one above and love to watch naive little hearts be broken into a million different pieces… I guess it’s true what they say, “misery loves company”.
So yeah, I’m disagreeing with this age old saying. Don’t choose love. Choose money, choose career, choose your passion. Heck choose to watch paint dry on a fricking wall. Basically choose anything as long as you can avoid this trap. It beckons you with its tempting tendrils and before you know you’re stuck so deep in the web and the only way out is heartache and more heartache.

It’s ironic how there are some things we never develop tolerance to.
They say that once you’ve been in love you see rainbows in everything. But what they don’t tell you is that, once you’ve had your heart broken the technicolour becomes a black and white silent movie, pretty damn fast. And not the funny kind.
It’s almost as if you were doing fine (not a 100% great, but you were managing to get by), and you’re walking along the road of life just minding your business when all of sudden you’re hit by this draft of happiness, warmth and something else you can’t really explain but you can feel it. It makes you feel whole and adds a spring to your step and you can’t stop smiling. And before you know it, the smile has become forced and turned into grimace before settling into a fully blown scowl. You didn’t even realise that you’d been dragging your feet for the last mile or so.
When this supposed feeling of “love” began it was so sudden and it had literally swept you off your feet. However, when IT leaves you, it for sure makes its presence known. You can feel it being wrenched out from your self bit by bit and you wonder if the agony ever gets any better. Falling in love may be the “best” feeling in the world, but falling out of love or having your heart broken will drain every single ounce of happiness from your life. Otherwise, how else do you explain the feeling of trying to breathe underwater. It’s as if your lungs are crying for some air, but every damn breath is so painful and you can feel your chest getting heavier. And finally when it’s almost out of your system you’re left weak like a malnourished person waking up from a coma, wondering if you’ll ever feel whole again.

And as you join the ranks with your fellow Sadist-machochists you realise, that every one is broken; some are just really good at hiding their cracks.

THE HOLI REVELATION

THE HOLI REVELATION: The shocking revelation of holi in movies vs. in real life!

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Growing up, my favourite festival was Holi, but only because I’d never really played it. My concept of Holi had been modeled around the vast amount of information I’d gathered from Bollywood movies, songs and photographs.

I’d always imagined this festival of colours, is what represents India, the colours, the brotherhood, the love. As a young 8-year old, Holi was what I drew in my art class, when the topic given was: ‘My Favourite Festival’. Whoever said, you can’t put a time on art, obviously never attended middle school.

Because I was an Orthodox Christian who lived in the outskirts of the city with only cattle as neighbours; I never had the good fortune to really celebrate Holi, in all its glory.

My Holi memories were my brother and I drenching each other in coloured water with buckets and mugs; and my mother screaming in the background for us to get back because Holi was always strategically placed around the final exams.

So Holi for me was this Bollywood love story that I had fantasized over and over and perfected in my head.

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It wasn’t till I was in my first year in college that I’d my first Holi experience. Let’s just say playing the ‘real’ Holi was my equivalent of finding out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

As a Holi virgin who entered the field with zero preparation, I was instantly mauled by all the beasts awaiting their next victim.

In the movies, Holi is always represented by these women running around with colours in their hands, very gently applying colours on each others’ faces as if they were the secret to blemish free skin; with their white kurtas stained in pink and yellow colours in a way that it should be considered art. Their faces by some miracle manages to stay clean with a few patches of pink and very distinctive three streaks of blue over their cheeks, as if a hand has been very seductively grazed over. (Like that of the UTv Pictures logo. I’m sure the 90s kids relate!)

Boy, oh boy was I in for a shock!

My experience taught me so much. First of all, don’t be stupid enough to enter to play this deadly game without prior preparation. Oiling your hair and skin to prevent the colours from seeping in through your skin is a must; unless you want it to seem as if you have an STD rash all over your body and discover that you are literally bleeding blue every time you take a shower for the next week.

Obviously don’t be stupid enough to wear jewellery, unless you want the aforementioned beasts to snatch your favourite chain during a ‘friendly’ game of Holi, leaving you with a scar that makes people wonder if you had thyroidectomy before.

I’ve always wondered why only throwing these neon-ish colous is the part that was always shown in slow motion in all the song sequences. I’ll tell you why! Because the only shot worth capturing is when the guy (preferably the hero), throws a handful of colour on the girl (preferably the heroine, the same one from earlier with strategically placed streaks of color on her face).

And I say this is the only scene worth capturing because what ensues is this intense rubbing-mauling-groping session that would put wild animals to shame.

All of a sudden, it’s as if a mental horn simultaneously blares in everybody’s head signifying a war cry. Everybody’s priority then shifts from posing for candid pictures (enough to #TBT till next Holi), to making sure that every single person next to you has been dipped and dusted in so much neon pink, green and yellow, that you might argue that the ulterior motive was to turn everyone into a colourful beacon to attract beings from outer space.

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If you think that once people have exhausted their Holi stash and water, they will gracefully recede to their respective homes; then think again. “Jugaad’ is every Indian’s middle name, so why should they shy away from their inherent resourcefulness during one of the most important festivals.

Before you know it, the empty water guns and buckets have been discarded and the whole thing has turned into a barbarian mud fight.

Only when the summer afternoon sun starts scorching everyone’s back and dries up the mud, do people accept defeat and trudge back to their homes, their clothes being weighed down by the dried mud but their hearts that much lighter.

And all that remains are the numerous pichkaaris, empty polythene bags and a multi-coloured ground to bear testament to the battle that took place there.

Even though it’s insanely ferocious and aggressive, there is no denying that playing Holi is always a lot of fun. That is why people all over India gather in huge numbers to celebrate this festival of colours. Because when else is it acceptable for a complete stranger to vigorously shove coloured powder all over your face, so that you cough coloured snot out from your nostrils for the remainder of your week, like a cartoon dragon.

Because amongst all the competition of dousing each other in colours; barriers are broken, bonds blossom, camaraderie created and friendships are forged. And all that makes it worth it, even if it means that for the next few days every time you take a shower it resembles a crime scene.

That is the beauty of this Indian festival of colours; even though everyone is plastered with layers of different colours on their faces; you somehow manage to see them more clearly than ever.

THE GREAT INDIAN SPITTER

This is a story of the great Indian spitter. I had the fortune to meet him, on a fine afternoon on the platforms of a moderately crowded railway platform. And I say moderately crowded, because there was actual breathable space between two people; you could walk a certain direction, without relying on the crowd to carry you. Anyone who has ever been on a crowded Indian railway platform can appreciate this sentiment, of being able to breathe in fresh air, without indirectly sniffing someone else’s armpit.

So, now that I have established that the platform was moderately crowded, the subject of my observation was casually leaning over a shaky bench, that may have seen better years. His lips were moving in rhythmic motion that a person adapts, when they are chewing betel leaves (paan). And I know it was a betel leaf that he was chewing, because this lips were stained in the same flaky red colour as that of the bench he was sitting in. The same bench that rattled on a windy day, shook when you sat on it, and was probably so old that the station was built around it.

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The great Indian spitter had been chewing his paan, continuously now, his eyes focused somewhere far, his eyes glazed oblivious to fact that many people have walked past him. After a while he made these slurping noises, when he gathered all the loose bits of paan hanging and slobbering around his mouth, and chewed them for a last time as he prepared for the grand finale.

He put two of his fingers in front of his mouth and did what he does best; he spat. And what happened next was the reason I decided to document this incident. Because even though I am thoroughly disgusted by this entire culture of spitting, at that moment I couldn’t deny that there was a certain beauty to it. A set of skills were definitely required to do it, with the same ease he had done it. He seemed to have mastered the art.

The remaining of the paan that had not coated his teeth or mouth, flew from between the two fingers that he kept vertically on his lips. The red coloured liquid made a parabola as they landed right in the space between where the platform ended and the train bogie began. It was a gap of hardly few inches. With a distance of approximately six feet, while casually leaning back on the bench, he had managed to land it directly between the platform and the train, without staining either of them.

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I was celebrating the ‘goal’ internally, when I realized that I was obsessing over a spit of a complete stranger who was probably destroying the government property. Any Indian knows, how revolting the act of chewing and spitting paan is. Painting the sidewalks and corner walls of the city with it, until over the years they have turned into a brownish red colour, and you can never tell that these walls were white once.

Even though my stand on chewing and spitting betel leaves has not changed, on that sweltering hot afternoon, as I gazed over this Indian spitter, I couldn’t help but appreciate the beauty of it all, and for a second be invested in where his spit landed. And not to mention the small victory dance I had in my head when it landed in the black abyss, to reunited with thousand of similar stains which were never washed down.

WHY THE GREAT INDIAN CIRCUS?

A country where every day is an adventure. From the over crowded local trains and the continuous hustle, to the beautiful festivals and sometimes ridiculous cultures. As an Indian, I am constantly disgusted and amazed at the same time, by this country of mine. Where resources are scanty and the competition is fierce, the people survive due to pure resilience. This blog is my take on the Indian life, the good, the bad and the hypocrisy of it all! It’s the great Indian circus!