The Close Shave

Naturally, my household and I are not socialising much. If at all we do, it’s in bubbles. I have met friends for walks in the park. I met another friend at her house where we always sat with at least two feet between us. Stuff like that.

Last Thursday, my Uncle organised a lunch for us. We were 12 people in all including two young children. The family that hosted us had six members. It was a ceremony and we had a late lunch. It was the largest such gathering we have been to since corona began. I was apprehensive but not socialising or dressing up and getting out has been driving me crazy. So in all honesty, I enjoyed the break.

We had a late but delectable, ceremonial lunch on leaves, and laughed at the antics of the children. For a while, life seemed free of fears and fun.

On Sunday when I woke up, I felt an itch in my ears and throat. By Sunday night, I was coughing and feverish. I could feel myself getting worse.

When I woke up on Monday, I had a bad sore throat and my head felt hangover-heavy.

I didn’t think I had COVID-19, but I had to check for sure. Also, having gone out and having met so many people meant I couldn’t be 100% sure I didn’t have it.

When I saw my physician, she ordered a COVID-19 test too. The symptoms all seemed to match.

The process is simple. The doctor takes down your details and shares it with a lab. You call the lab, set up an appointment, and as far as possible, isolate yourself.

If you can’t isolate in your home, wearing a mask at all times is a safe and essential practice.

The lab technician comes home and takes a swab from your nose and throat. It’s gross and not comfortable but you survive it.

The test should not cost you more than INR 2500 because that’s the cap the government has ordered. Home sample collection charges might be extra. They also collect your Aadhar number and I think the data is collected and tabulated somewhere.

Then you wait up to 48 hours for the result, all the while isolating. Touch fewer surfaces by restricting your range of movements.
If you have people around you, it’s imperative that all of you wear masks.

I had it easy because I could shut myself rather comfortably on one floor of my house and my mother supplied the meals.

In all this time, I sipped only warm water mixed with ginger. I made spice infusions and had that instead of tea or coffee. And I did a lot of steam inhalation and the ever-so disgusting salt water gargling. I also drank over-the-counter, herbal cough syrup copiously.

I got the result in under thirty hours and I didn’t have COVID-19.

By then I knew for certain that I didn’t because my sore throat had almost gone, and there was no sign of a cough. However, I had lost my voice.

So now I have a very sexy, raspy, bluesy singer voice and I am sad that when the antibiotics I take for the laryngitis I do have works, I will get my normal voice back.

This week was mildly stressful.

It also showed me again and anew how fragile life is.

It made me realise that much as I love people, food, dressing up, getting out and all the rest, this is definitely not the time for such risks. And it is a huge risk if you are immuno-compromised. While it is true, I didn’t get corona when I went out this time, I did catch laryngitis. It is an infection and I have been super vulnerable to infections since I turned 29 and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. So I probably got it from someone who merely carried the virus and perhaps had a mild case of the sniffles. But when I caught it, it became big, almost covid like, and finally retreated as laryngitis.

And here’s why this post:

  1. If you are even mildly ill, stay indoors. Seek help and treatment on time.
  2. Don’t ignore your symptoms.
  3. Don’t avoid consulting a doctor because you have heard all the conspiracy theories about doctors being in on a COVID-19 scam and needlessly testing people to make money.
  4. Get tested at the right lab. Check costs and don’t get scammed. It should not cost more than INR 2500.
  5. Isolate at the first hint of illness because you might be around people who are vulnerable.
  6. And, really, please rethink social gatherings. If you must meet large groups of people socially, meet outdoors in parks or gardens, and don’t touch each other, and don’t eat or drink together.

My cousin was upset when I yelled at him and my dad for shaking hands. But social graces mean nothing when you are dead. And it’s not me being paranoid. Even if I am, unless you can give me a vaccine, I am entitled to this paranoia and you can really fuck your judgments.

So as far as possible, I urge everyone reading this to maintain social distancing and to stay indoors as much as you can.

If you have COVID-19 and die, you are just a statistical number, and no one gives a fuck about that. For all of us, remember that it’s only our immediate family that will suffer the consequences of losing us in such a meaningless fashion.

Parties, weddings, get-togethers can wait. Funerals don’t.

So please stay safe. Please wear masks the right way. Touch and eat only with the people in your bubble. Keep your bubble small. Let’s please look after each other.

Posted in In Sickness and In Health | 2 Comments

La vie en Violet: dixième partie

I don’t really remember when it started. But a few years ago, when I had consensual, safe sex with my then sexual partner, it felt like claws were tearing open my insides. And we weren’t having passionate, violent sex, nor was he hung like a horse. So I was horrified by the amount of pain I was in. This was when I wanted him. He still turned me on. I desired the sex. Besides, we only met for sex and a smoke after. In that time, we caught up on his life, work, and travel. He was not privy to my mind. It was an arrangement built on mutual respect, admiration, and desire. What we both had in common was a love for well-written copy, travel (him more than me). It helped that we were both such workaholics, we never complained about the other being too busy to catch-up or even shag. We genuinely understood. For as long as that arrangement worked, it was empowering, sexy, and honest. The sex wasn’t break-a-bed hot, but we were both no longer in our 20s, and so we satisfied each other well-enough till that day when having his dick inside me was not pleasurable at all.
The chafing and scratches remained for an agonising week.

A couple of weeks later, it was the same. I wondered if it was him or me.

I did what any sensible girl would do; I found another lover. Unfortunately, this turned out to be someone who didn’t believe in penetrative sex with condoms. And I will never have unprotected sex because diseases and infections have a way of catching me. He had other ways to satisfy a woman that worked, but after a while it didn’t help my experiment.

I succumbed to a meet-and-fuck date. The guy was civil, polite, decent, with clean hands and feet, and didn’t smell bad. I am not ashamed to say that to me he wasn’t even a person. He was just a penis whose insertion in my body would show me if I were the problem or the men. I used lube and supplied the condom. When it was done, I burnt a little but nothing at all like before. I thanked the bloke sincerely in my mind and drove home feeling sexy and powerful.
In three hours, I had a UTI. My body broke out in chills, a fever, and I constantly had the urge to pee. I went on antibiotics and medication for a week. It was not pleasant nor easy.

After I recovered I travelled to Europe and America for a long awaited holiday. I avoided penetrative sex on holiday concerned about having another UTI episode. Celibacy trumps trauma any day. Besides, I knew, or so I thought, that I wasn’t the problem.

Last year, I was in bed with a lover whom I found very exciting. But we recognised quickly enough that my vagina was shut for business that day. No amount of lube or other work helped. I recognised that it was during a very stressful period, but I felt desire for this man. I always had. Yet there I was dry as a raisin in a summer sun in the tropics. It was as if my lips were sealed shut with a chastity lock. I didn’t even know such a thing could happen. He was wonderful about it all and for that we still remain friends.

Around the same time, my mother, who has rheumatoid arthritis like me, also suffered from a dry mouth that altered the way she tasted food. Everything she ate felt spicier than it was, and burned her mouth. Her eyes on account of being dry, even with regular drops, developed infections at an alarmingly frequent rate.

Watching her suffer and plough through this with aplomb but a great deal of discomfort has been like watching my future in a mirror. But my mom’s issues started when she was in her 50s. I am still in my 30s, I chant in self-pity.

So when I returned to India last year, I rushed to my psychiatrist who is also a sexologist and told him about my many instances of extremely painful sexual intercourse.

In the meantime, I had, of course, done my research. It seemed possible that I was peri-menopausal. But it seemed more likely that my body had betrayed me yet again and that I now had another auto-immune condition called Sjögren’s syndrome (pronounced Show-Grens). He sent me to visit a gynecologist and she ruled out the possibility of this being a physical issue. I was next supposed to show myself to a rheumatologist and corona happened.

In the midst of the first lockdown, my father’s health took a turn for the worse. I was stretched thin and so stressed that my Blood Pressure started to climb and never dropped down to normal again. I now had high blood pressure too.

Finally, earlier this month, I started experiencing debilitating fatigue for no reason. I stopped even the sporadic exercise I had been doing. Just breathing felt draining. I had begun to notice a slight sensation of dryness on my tongue.

For years now, I have found it extremely difficult to cry, to weep, to actually shed tears. I recognised that this had started almost around the same time as I started having issues with sex.

A couple of weeks back, when I finally drummed up the courage to visit a new rheumatologist, he confirmed Sjögren’s syndrome for both my mother and me. It’s an autoimmune disorder, often existing in patients with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus where the body eats up its own lubricating glands. There is no way to prevent this. The degeneration of the glands is permanent. Eye solutions, sprays for the mouth, vaginal lubricants, rarely surgery are the only means of relief. It also leads to extreme fatigue. It could also work on one’s organs.

I decided to drown my sorrow in substance and painkillers only to recognise that the act further dried up my mouth to the point of acute discomfort. No amount of sipping water or chewing ice-cubes help.

So unless India legalises CBD oil for conditions such as mine, I have to try and make do with prescription drugs that unleash a chain of adverse reactions.

The timing of all this is ironical at best, downright cruel at its worst. Corona scare implies the absence of any and all sexual activities for most aware, sensible, sexually active non-partnered people. Honestly, sex is the absolute last thing on my mind.

The drug busts that are happening everywhere ensures that legalising medical Marijuana in India (which is great for dealing with anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, and the like) isn’t going to happen in my lifetime, at least.

The constant fatigue and joint discomfort has rendered even gentle walks impossible in the past few weeks. Naturally, I have put on more weight or maybe it’s just how I feel now – heavy, ponderous, dry, stiff.

The rain doesn’t help.

Weight loss tips or other such insights won’t be tolerated, so hush, dear reader.

So why am I unabashedly sharing such personal details and bragging about my new autoimmune acquisition?

The purpose is not to elicit pity (fuck you) or sympathy or exclamations of concern (Thank you, but really no) or titilate people about what is now definitively, my non-existent sex life.

I think I write because women’s sexual health and pleasure is never talked about even though it is about health. Living with a dry vagina or a wet ass pussy, the two ends of a woman’s sexual spectrum and reality (and everything in between) needs to be understood better by both men and other women. I want to talk about vaginismus and how frustrating and debilitating the idea of being dry really is. It also fucks with the way you view your own sexuality.

Lastly, I want to help people understand and look at co-morbidities seriously and with empathy.

Rheumatoid arthritis by itself won’t kill a person, but look at the life it forces its people to live. Note also how everything from anxiety and depression to Sjögren’s is connected to having an autoimmune disorder.

As a diabetic, hypertensive person with at least three diagnosed autoimmune disorders, and living with ageing parents one of whom suffers from dementia, COVID-19 is the worst nightmare to live through. Compound that with the fact that I live in India as a business person dependent on an economy that enables sales, and people still living with the great denial of our political lives and times, and now see how stress takes on a whole new meaning. And stress is a great trigger for everything from RA to panic attacks.

Then I speak to people who say COVID-19 in itself doesn’t kill. It’s a conspiracy. It will just come and go, drink herb tea.

I step out of the house and see people who wear no masks or wear masks at their necks, shoulders, eyeballs, what-have-you, spitting phlegm happily and noisily on streets.

All this and I literally cannot even cry.

So tell me now, how is that for a fuck.

 

 

 


Read the past health episodes here. 
And if you notice how I really can’t count, shut up. 
La Vie En Violet – 9
La Vie En Violet – 8
La Vie En Violet – 7
La Vie En Violet – 6
La Vie En Violet – Yo are not sick; just fat
La Vie En Violet – 6
La Vie En Violet – 5
La Vie En Violet – 4
La Vie En Violet – 3
La Vie En Violet – 2
La Vie En Violet – 1

Posted in Blue Funk, In Sickness and In Health | 10 Comments

Eviscerate – an anniversary special

Eviscerate. Eviscerate. Eviscerate. I repeat to myself sitting in the car speeding towards the airport.

It’s a damn clean job, I can tell dispassionately. Even objectively.

He bangs his hand on the wheel when he realises that I am still weeping. “Baby, don’t. Don’t go. I told you not to cancel, not to go. We can still go home. Don’t cry.”
I am ice beneath the tears. When I answer my voice is steely. “I need to go. I can’t deal with this. I should not have to deal with this.” With this, my tears stop. But I clutch the stomach to stymie the bleeding.

I feel like halal meat. Let it bleed. The worst parts removed. All the rest is now clean, edible. You can almost taste the goodness and wholesomeness of this choice.
The butcher gets all the credit. Take out what you don’t need anymore. Nothing haram in this life anymore. No unnamed desires or designs to stem. It’s all flowing, easy, under control.

Meat is to be frowned upon.
Meat is inconvenient now.

I bleed and press against the skin trying to come to terms with your decisions that seal my fate. I remember how you once sucked meat from marrow, from bones. Time was you relished it. But now it’s all an inconvenience.

So you turn vegan because it suits you, and eat an avocado for breakfast with a sprinkle of salt, and drizzled mildly with pepper. No indulgence. Only wholesome goodness.

You make gaucomole as I grow green with envy; bile rising over my bitterness of seeing you in love, of watching you unsee me. You pay more attention to your furniture, your ash tray, your organic waste.

I google what happens when you are knifed in your gut by someone. The responses are as expected. It’s strangely reassuring. There’s a feeling of absolute tranquillity, an icy aura that clings to you. Your eyes overflow with tears. You might lose bladder and bowel control. You feel lightheaded and at the same time foggy. Then the hot blood pounds against you, and if you lose a lot of it, you bleed, lose consciousness, and if left untreated, you die.

“Can we share a smoke before you drop me off?” I cry.
Silently, he lights two cigarettes and puts one in my mouth.
He is shaking. “See, baby? I am stinking”, he says painfully, coming closer. The blood roaring is so hot and noisy that I can’t smell him. I can barely taste the tobacco. It’s already the 42nd one in four hours. If my lungs weren’t in shock, I would be dry heaving onto the pavement.

With shaking hands I light another cigarette and with wobbly lips I kiss his cheek and say goodbye. He gives me a tissue packet, pulling a fresh one out to wipe my tears. He is tender when he does this. He is so young. A child almost. The tears swell in my eyes. “Look after him” I whisper.
I can’t believe I say that. But I can’t say anything else. There’s nothing else to say.
His lips brush my trembling ones. “Go. Go back home and feel better. It will be better soon.”
It won’t. Where does he get this wisdom from? I suddenly see him as an old man. He has lived many lives, known much pain. I want to pull him to me and protect him. But I also wonder if he is shrewd, manipulative, the hand that twisted that knife in my gut which is why I am bleeding all over the airport.
“Baby, don’t blame me.” He reads my thoughts.”I love you.” He presses my palm.”But if you do blame me, it’s OK too. He will do the same thing to me someday.”
I nod mutely. I don’t agree with him but at that moment, I am grateful for him. I kiss him goodbye and kiss goodbye to all the life I have ever known, all the love I have given.

I stumble inside the airport blinded by tears and blood.
“Madam”, he holds my hand as I am about to pass out. “Come, let me help you.”
“Yes,” I sob. “Please help me. I have been knifed. I don’t know what to do. There’s so much blood all over.”
“Madam, please calm down. Let’s weigh your luggage. You know Hindi? Aap ro kyun rahi hain? Why are you crying?”
“Ghar. Mera Ghar…” I can’t bring myself to say that I lost my home, the only one that really felt like home. And that defeated, bleeding, I am returning to my roots. Roots aren’t the same as home. I will never again know another home. I don’t know that then.
“Pardesi story, Madam. Hum sab ki yahin story. We all outsiders have this same story. That’s what we do. This is our life. It will be OK.”

Why is everyone obsessed with being OK? I know it won’t be. Nothing will ever be OK. He doesn’t understand that this is my home. He can’t see my knife wound. He doesn’t feel the blood even when he holds my arm to steady me. The airport swims. Liquid pools of people shimmer around me.

“I am Khaled.” he says. “I will help you get your boarding pass.” He takes my phone, I unlock it for him and he looks for the Lufthansa app, and scans the QR code on it. He hoists my luggage and puts it on the scale. I am dying and still my luggage is overweight. I suppress hysterical laughter. Khaled holds my arm tighter and steadies me.
“Your luggage is overweight. But I will handle it. You don’t take tension for this. ”

This is what I need to do all the time. Play the damsel in distress so everyone will always allow my overburdened luggage, and feel proud and chivalrous at having helped me. I have never asked for help. I have never let my guard down like that with anyone but you. But I can ask for help. I can be frail and fragile for everyone. I can be young and dainty. I can be a damsel. I learn this skill – being a damsel in distress – when I am dying. It serves no purpose anymore.

Khaled fishes a bottle of Evian from somewhere. “Please drink water. Shall I sit with you? My shift is over. Ghar jaane hi waala tha. Your flight leaves in four hours. You have a lot of time. Shall I buy you something?”
The tears roll down my cheeks. I feel like Blanche DuBois depending on the kindness of strangers.
“Thank you. No. Where are you from?” I whisper.
“Pakistan, Madam. Please calm yourself. Drink water. Come sit here.” We move into the airport.
He still doesn’t notice the blood that’s soaking my black clothes. Khaled deposits me on a pale pink couch. It’s absurd to be sitting on it. It’s absurd that it even exists. I sit obediently thinking why is it a stranger feels so much concern for me? Why am I not invisible to him? Does this mean other people can still see me? Does this mean that by not seeing me, you have not erased me entirely from existence? Do I even exist? Still? For days now, I have been entirely invisible. Only springing to focus when I was to be cut open, sliced, eviscerated.
“Why is the bathroom so wet?”
“Did you not cook today?”
“Have you only been sleeping?”
“Why are you having a panic attack?”
“How can you have a panic attack in front of him?”
“Did you take your meds?”
“Why are you only swallowing pills?”
“Why can’t you look after yourself better?”
Little by little, my existence dwindled. And the blood surges out fresh, hot, sticky at these remembered accusations.
My coat is stained red, the colour of my lips, my hair, and the blood that’s just overflowing from where you knifed me.

But the flight is in four hours and I press my bag on to my stomach to stem the flow. I am an escaped half-slaughtered lamb. I don’t know if escaping a prison when you jailed yourself there, is of any merit. I am no Papillon.
There’s just no escape, it would seem.

“Ma’am, you can go for a security check and towards the gate after an hour. Just sit and relax here for now. I will come right back.”

I sit and slowly let the blood soak everything. I see only red. The shop displays are botched red, as are all the people walking busily and gaily with open wounds, bleeding, soaking the floor in crimson, vermilion, scarlet, puce. They see me and quickly avert their eyes as if my wounds are contagious.

Khaled returns with a lunch box of diced musk melons and a coffee as black and opaque as your heart has now become towards me. “Here, eat this,” he says. He treats me like I am a child now as he pushes the fork into my hand and helps me to hold it. The tiny, Ikea fork pokes into the skin of the melon, impales it. I bring it to my mouth and the melon oblivious to the reality of the world, explodes wet and entirely too sweet in my mouth. Khaled looks pleased. “I grow them,” he says. I swallow the coffee coating my mouth with welcome bitterness. I scald my tongue. This new sensation of pain sharpens the wound in my gut.

I clutch my stomach, heave. I am going to die, I know that. This is what I did. I handed you the knife after blunting it. I thought that would help. I didn’t imagine, couldn’t have imagined, the fury with which you would plunge that knife into me. Blood coats my fingers thickly.

I will die. I am determined to. I just didn’t want to die near you. Or for you. I had to leave, scurrying away like a poisoned rat, to die elsewhere. But I am dying, that I am certain of. I gave up too much of myself for you. There’s nothing left now. I will crawl back to my roots and cradled in that comfort, I will bleed out one pale drop at a time. I am full of such grand, but anemic plans.

I hiccup.

Khaled produces the Evian again. “Drink this.”

I gulp the water down. I have no life, no home, no control over the hiccups as they take over, like I let you take over my life. I am entirely culpable. I let my guard down. I let myself dream. I let myself love someone more than I loved my own self. I had no control. I should have stayed. I should stay back. I don’t need to get on the flight back to India, to the roots. I can stay right here and…

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. My heart pumps out negation in rapid bursts.

I sputter water. My hiccups turn to cough and then to shaking and silent sobs. The blood soaks the pink sofa that’s turned a dirty rust.

People are watching. Maybe finally everyone can see the blood for what it really is. Maybe everyone always saw the knife wound and I didn’t recognise it. Maybe now finally, even you will accept it for what it is. Evisceration. I stare back sightless.

And Khaled says, “You have a long flight. You have to control yourself.”

As his words penetrate the fog in my brain, something shifts. Khaled from Pakistan has shared something profound without realising it. But I catch it. Breathe into it.

In that instance, I learn how to control.

Posted in Blue Funk, Idle Thoughts | 1 Comment

Aftermath

The flyovers snake.
Traffic slithers in thickening smog
Loneliness cripples you
Each in your own car.
You are in the REM video.
Everybody hurts.
But no one speaks.
Only the incessant blaring
Of intrusive horns
Gives you a migraine.
And so you complained.
It made you feel self-important.

Today, the streets are empty.
The serpentine flyovers blocked.
A lone, used face-mask flutters in the wind.
If you step out, you can breathe
air: clean, green, and riddled impossibly with germs.
So everybody stays in – each in front of your own laptop
Like a surreal Hopper painting.
The light dapples on internet screens
And trembles in fear.
Now you complain on Zoom calls
Share memes.
You know you are insignificant.

Posted in Idle Thoughts | Leave a comment

Confessions

They never tell you how to get rid of a memory. More specifically, how do you get rid of constant reminders?

That lip balm, for instance.
I want to be all profound, quote T S Eliot, and say, “Lips that would kiss form prayers to broken stone.” Instead of prayers, there was the vile poison that poured from your mouth into some place deep inside me that I stood taller, gripped my own arms, and recited Eliot to calm my mind and find my breath. Brotlose Kunst.

But not to digress, how can an old, unscented, entirely organic lip balm add on to the memory pile?

Another thing I want to add to the pile are interesting links. I want to tell you about this article I read about hoarding so we could dissect all our friends who hoard. We would debate whether you and I hoarded. I would confess about the books and clothes I hoard. You would dismiss it and say it’s essential. I would fall a little in love with you again. My toes would curl. This is the way I want to remember you. Us. But no one remembers us, really.
A line in that article broke my heart. They find a few generations’ old family album and they don’t recognise any of the people in it. Their own ancestors. Is that what all our holidays, festivals, and pictures will amount to? No one to repeat the stories. No one will remember. No one will care because we stopped giving a damn.

This story defeats the purpose of having children too.

I remember us as children – I want to add those inventive word games we played. How you laughed when you scored a point more than me. How difficult it was for me to lose to you.

Running and catching. How you were the only person who challenged me to cast dignity aside, and chase you through fields because you got us lost on holiday and wouldn’t even apologise. When you let yourself get caught, I hit you and scratched you. A wild cat. You held my arms tight and laughed and laughed. But you never apologised.

You never apologised. That’s not what I want to remember. The weight of that sentence sinks me in its personal politics.
Are you more important than the we, you and I create? And if you are, how much more should I be, when I only give?

Rose cookies.
Meals.
That laughter when we slept one on top of another like satiated snakes. And contemplated our next meal. ‘How much you eat!’ slurred on a lilting song-laugh.

Meat. That fish you let me choke on in some mess with sweaty, dark skinned men on that holiday. All the fish you then de-boned for me, the biryani you fed me with your hands, for all those years, and that fish fry you wouldn’t touch although it smelt exactly the way your mother made it, you said. So to be perverse and purposeful, you didn’t cut it for me. And watched me, in part admiration and part annoyance, cut it up on my own.
I could always live without you. That was what I was afraid of.
Your fear was to confront who you really were when you came face-to-face with unconditional acceptance.
How do we remove this fear that frissons under our skin and pops every time we teach ourselves to care for somebody else?

The songs.
They must surely torment you the same way. Didn’t you lose more than I did? I knew at least that the end had happened before the disease and the determination got you, before you. I lost you. But you lost your entire past, your presence, your person who hoarded these stories of you.

I think I want to give away these memories of you to others who love you. Like your family, perhaps. Parcel it into a little bundle and courier it. They return it to me post haste.

Everyone we know who discuss us leave me with this bitter aftertaste of too much spring cleaning on a balmy day, this even when they don’t discuss us. The dust chokes me. I sputter my cough and indignation.

No one is an expert on dusting off memories. There’s no Netflix episode on ridding oneself of reminders.

But if you have succeeded, please, won’t you confess?

Posted in Idle Thoughts | 2 Comments