I was in the sixth standard, 11 years old. I was at my Aunt’s place celebrating the Ganesha festival, watching the immersion of the idol in the huge lake that was near my Aunt’s house. On the way back my cousin, a year older, was telling me all about being a woman and what it would mean. It was nothing new. My mom and I had discussed it. But talking to someone almost your own age about it was different. It was a taboo topic and we were discussing it right under my aunt’s nose. My cousin went on about how we could wear saris if we wanted, we could dress up, men would notice us – but we shouldn’t care about that. But the best thing ever – we can have a baby if we want to! We can become mothers! But it will all be painful as well. She had heard so from her friend in class.
As exciting as the discussion was, I was unbelievably tired. I was feeling sweaty and icky. The lake wasn’t very tidy. I was slightly irritable as well. I went to freshen up and noticed the same red that my cousin was telling me about. It was exciting. I called my Aunt who verified it and she drew me a bath. On the way home, along with the excitement, I was conscious of pain like I’d never known. And that’s what it meant to be woman.
In traditional Brahmin families, a girl’s coming-of-age is celebrated with great pomp. It’s one way of letting the world know ‘hey there, we have a girl who can now be married, let’s start looking for a suitable groom for her.’ That didn’t happen in my case. Both mom and dad thought it was a silly custom. And with dad being a Mangalorean Shetty we were hardly traditional Brahmins. But I was disappointed. I wanted to be dressed in traditional finery, wearing lots of bangles, and playing hostess. But I was too shy to say I wanted a party. Back then I wasn’t the brazen hussy I now am. So it never happened.
For nearly a year after that I didn’t even see any spotting. It was almost like I had dreamt the whole thing up.
Then suddenly one fine day, I started bleeding in earnest. It was crippling. I had never known such pain could exist. My parents took me to a doctor who prescribed a pain-killer. It helped, but not much. Steadily with each passing year the pain got worse. I started to put on weight. My breasts got heavier and hurt like a mother. And finally one gynecologist took pity on me and prescribed my miracle drug – Spasmoproxyvon. My five days now passed in comfort and a haze. All was right with the world.
I met a gorgeous man. We fell in lust. I went to a gynec to take all the necessary precautions. I wanted to do it the right way. She suggested pills. I started to take them. But our relationship was rocky. We’d come together like thunder and lightning and simply go up in smoke. It was entirely too stressful. I stopped taking the pills. But I didn’t stop meeting him. And after each meeting, I’d stress so much about our future that I was constantly irregular and every month I was convinced I was pregnant. Till I realized I wasn’t and then the entire cycle would begin again. He used to get annoyed. He thought I was trying to trick him into a marriage in the old-fashioned way. I told him I would have tried that if I thought he was even slightly honourable. That was the basis of our relationship. We knew the best and the worst things about each other – mostly the worst.
But all that didn’t matter much because I was doing something I absolutely loved. I was studying my favourite writers and teaching my favourite language while getting better at it each day. Every 15 days, I was meeting new people and feeling confident that they loved me. It was there in the great reviews they gave me; it was there in the way they smiled at me when I entered a training room. So I had to sacrifice a little sleep, but I’ve always been a bit of an insomniac and a total night person.
My friend Preethi’s father who is a doctor told me to take it easy. But since when did anyone start listening to good advice? Besides I was having so much fun, juggling so many things – studies, work, an intense on-off relationship. I have always loved taking tests that analyze one’s personality. It was no surprise to me that I was a Type A personality. The way I saw it – some day in the middle of a training room, I would get a heart attack and collapse. And there would be so much drama, and I’d be assuring my trainees, ‘No, no, sweeties, just a little pain, that’s all. Nothing to worry about, really.’
Because I’m daft and imaginative this way. And who cared?
But nothing so dramatic happened. Instead there was a burning sensation in my stomach irrespective of what I ate, when I ate, whether I ate. We went to a doctor in Koramangala. He didn’t even prescribe any tests. He just said ‘Eat cucumber and apples.’ I did. I stuffed my face with cucumbers and apples. For years after that I couldn’t stomach apples.
By then my mom was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. It was her knees and feet. So we saw an Ayurvedic doctor. He came highly recommended from the Malyalee folk in my area. Dr. Prince on the Kaikondanahalli road blew my mind in the very first visit – he said I get shoulder pain every time I get stressed. It was true and only I knew about it. He said lots of other such stuff to me. I believed him. And suddenly travelling on half-made roads and waiting endlessly for hours – he took appointments but each consultation of his lasted at least half an hour – was nothing.
He asked me to stay away from tamarind and brinjal and drink 5 litres of water every day. And he gave a huge bottle of some really weird tasting medicine. He said everything would be fine.
And it was – my stomach pain disappeared in three months. My periods also became regular within the year.
I now know that it was the water that cured my mysterious heartburn. From drinking two tiny glasses of water a day, I’d begun to drink four and a half to five litres of water a day. And my lover and I had called it off so the stress was no longer there.
But I started putting on so much weight; I no longer fit into my clothes.
Dr. Prince said it was to be expected – I’ll get real fat before I became thin. That’s the way Ayurveda works.
Then he did a horrific thing. Of course, I only see it as horrifying now. He told me I reminded him of his wife whom he thought was the most beautiful woman on the planet and that she was plump and had huge breasts as well. He then conned me into getting a massage in the back and torso to help align my ‘chakras’. I was so gullible that I let him. And to be fair to him, he didn’t make me uncomfortable and the massage wasn’t sexual in nature. Though Anu still teases me about this. And I still don’t want to know what he did after the massage.
Throughout his two-year long treatment, he told me not to exercise or even take a walk till he instructed me to. That was good news as far as I was concerned. Only it really wasn’t. I put on more weight.
And my mom’s health began to deteriorate. Her fingers and toes began to bend and twist – displaying classic signs of the last stages of RA after which you are doomed to living life as a cripple. She couldn’t get out of bed. And then she decided enough was enough and started speaking to others who had RA. That’s how she found the doctor who is now treating me. Within a year she was better. In two years she no longer needed medication. Except occasionally.
Needless to say mom and I both concluded rather late in the day that we were being conned by a quack. And stopped visiting him.
Now I suspect that I was on some sort of steroids which even my other doctors agree is the only possible explanation for my weight. I even had fatigue and headaches.
In alternate medicine be it ayurveda or homeopathy or anything else, you have no way of telling what goes in. That’s why I no longer trust alternate medicine even if I see that it works on others. My stance now is – Good for you. But stay right away from me. I like taking medicines I can google, thank you.
In spite of beginning to exercise again, I never lost weight – particularly the rolls and rolls of fat collected around my middle. Although I was always plump, I never looked obese till Dr. Prince came into my life and tried to fashion me in his ideal of womanhood. And visiting him is probably the only thing I regret in all my life. I don’t even regret that sad, bad man whom I loved like only a girl in her early 20s can love. And Dr. Prince is the only reason I can never sing this song.
Okay, the real reason is that I can’t sing anymore. That too. But still.