October 25, 2004

of kings and demons

once upon a time there was a king who was loved and respected by all his subjects.
this king went out for a walk one day, and a demon grabbed the chance to sit on his throne. the king’s ministers were at once terrified and disgusted with the demon’s appearance, so they all looked away from the throne and decided to ignore him. enraged, the demon began to grow larger and larger, laughed menacingly and growled for their attention.

some days later, the king returned, unaware of the recent developments. but when he saw the demon, he didn’t flinch even once. “hello there, demon,” he smiled lovingly, “I hope you are enjoying yourself on my throne. i just got back, but i am in no hurry to sit down. you can stay there for as long as you want to.”

this left the demon greatly puzzled. suddenly all the king’s ministers too turned towards the demon and as a result, he began to shrink steadily. he grew smaller and smaller until he disappeared totally from the scene…
— old indian myth casually retold by my srilankan yoga teacher, santoshini.

we all have our demons inside us. sometimes we don’t recognise them, and sometimes, we do. sometimes we think if we ignore them long enough they will go away. but they don’t. we are all so wrong.

these days when i’m not painting my clay pots, writing, or learning to breathe, i am looking at my demons.
i think they too are just beginning to notice me now.

October 17, 2004

the *painting (*verb)

i try to capture

the lotus creator
a figure asleep on
the bed of snakes
a long haired woman
seated by his side

my page reeks
of oil paint

yellow, peacock blue,
red and green and black
the colours of vishnu
are on my hands

and now they smell
of dove soap.

October 12, 2004

neem is for the dogs

i have shorter weekends and longer saturdays now…if you know what i mean. and i’m learning about bananas.

for someone who’s always run away from the word ‘medicine’ itself, i’m surprised i enjoy working at the pharmacy (saturdays and alternate weekdays) for four hours a day. it keeps me moving about (much necessary for my backpain, which is why i signed up in the first place), keeps me in constant touch with people of all sorts and sizes, and besides…makes me feel less guilty when i want to impulse-buy a new tshirt or book, or new shoes 😉

the pharmacy here is no different from the ‘chemist’ store we have in india, except that the systems here are …well, totally different. no handwritten prescriptions to start with…everything is typed in on separate sheets of paper. if you’re above 60 or under 16, if you have a tax-exemption certificate, are pregnant or have some kind of medical exemption certificate, you don’t need to pay. for lesser mortals like us who pay the tax regularly for all these mentioned above, there is a charge of �6.40, for every medicine prescribed.

in india, everyone paid for their medicines, and everyone was seen by the doctor. he/she patiently listened to all your woes, health-related or even about how your servant doesn’t turn up on time, and then writes down some medication that usually treats both mind and body. the dispensary i used to visit in thane had someone (i think his name was gaitonde) to dispense medicines just by the door. patients waited to see the doctor outside in the waiting room, they gave their little handwritten chits to the dispenser and waited for their medicine-pudis again. the whole place would smell of bitter tablets, sweet syrupy cough medicine and dettol, and i would watch in fascination as the two hands and ten fingers blurred, breaking whole tablets in half, picking up tiny envelopes to drop the halved tablets in and mixing colourful liquids in amber-colour bottles to take home…all within three minutes or less.

he would also suggest some home remedies for you to get over the side effects of the medicines he’s just made. and then he would put his big head (along with the nehru-topi) out of the little hole in the wall and call out…”chala, naeeext.”

in the uk everything is different. you have to pray that you fall ill at the right time. that is… anytime between monday noon to wednesday evening. if you were bad in a previous birth, you might fall ill on a thursday morning; when that happens do consider before the receptionist asks you: “is it an emergency or do you want to see the nurse?” if you say you have been having the problem for about a week or two, it’s not an emergency. if you collapse and someone else dials for the ambulance, it is.

if you do say you want to see the doctor (of course, that’s why you called, right?), you will be told to wait and ‘be patient’ until the next monday. if you hurriedly do submit and say okay you don’t mind seeing the nurse, hoping at least you have some medication to see you till the next week, you will only regret it later. because if you don’t belong to any of those exemption-categories, you’ll end up paying both the nurse now and the doctor later, that’s �12.80 for just two medicine-prescriptions.

the doctor will see you for precisely four minutes. if you happen to mention an unrelated health symptom that’s also bothering you, he/she will just ignore or cut you abruptly with an unwelcome smile: “we’ll discuss that some other time,” and hand you the green paper that he’s already printed out.

the pharmacy will be down the street or next door, there are usually three to four dispensers and someone assisting them with the delivery items and the till (sales counter). the store smells of deodorant and coffee, and not tablets and syrups. you get entire strips of medicines you won’t even need perhaps, stapled and packaged into neat crisp paper bags; awkwardly-folded sheets of paper explain why you are taking the medication and another two pages go on to explain the side-effects if you muster up the courage to take them later.

if you do bring back unused medicines they will be thrown into the wastebin. tonics and cough syrups are readymade and can be bought off the shelf, and to counter side-effects you need to buy more medicines after you see the doctor again. (if you are still alive that is.)

now that i am on the other side, what i like about working at the pharmacy are the customers.

…like this 90-year-old woman who walked in slowly on her crutches. she even had all her teeth in and with shaky hands she clutched a pen and asked,”where do i sign, dear?” when i offered to sign for her she insisted she would do it herself! and here i am complaining of my back problem!

…there was this old man of 67, utterly dejected and depressed because his tests for cancer were all negative. “you should be happy,” i said, and felt like handing him a lollipop to cheer him up. but he stood there like a statue, fat tears welling up in his eyes but not rolling down his cheeks.

…sometimes there are strange people who wont tell me what they want, and insist that they’ll see the pharmacist, even if they just need some paracetamol. sometimes they sound rude, like someone did to me today. these, i’m told, are the ‘funny kinds’…the kinds who don’t like asians, if you read between the lines.
hmm, well… *shrug*

…and then there are people who teach you about bananas:
a little boy of three (with his mom) asks for bana-aana-flavoured medicines. we ask him what colours do bananas come in and he thinks and says…”umm, shtawberry, pineapple….ummmm..and bana-aana.”
“really!?” we ask. “and where do they grow?” we ask again and he says, without thinking this time: “oh, they grow in little packets …with stickers on them”!! 🙂

these are the best people i’ve ever seen – the little ones, aged 10 months to four years. they climb on chairs and tables, or cling on to their mothers and try and read out everything that’s on display in the store. they fill the place with laughter and we beg them for more.

it’s a different world altogether, working for a pharmacy in the uk…
when i tell them that in india we rely more on tried and tested home remedies, they look surprised. neither the doctors nor the dispensers have ever heard of the healing properties of turmeric or cumin.

“neem?” they ask, “isn’t that for the dogs that itch?”