Achoo!

I hate catching cold. I wish I were a bad fielder. But catch it, I do every time the season fluctuates. It is the silliest malady ever. It makes you feel sick, look sick, but the doctor doesn’t give you a thing. The family refuses to treat it as an ailment. So running red घायल nose or not, it cannot be used as an excuse to skip office and sleep. Well, I have a cold il my lose today as u cal see. (Replace l by n in the right places). With a headache between the eyes and aching throat and a reindeer nose, I am wearing a jacket with the hoodie on and a handkerchief permanently wrapped around a finger (I am sure u understand why a finger can go where no hand can). My family decided to laugh at me and poke sarcasm – looks like you are in Kashmir. So I decided to take revenge by skipping the spoken word. Who knows, it may be the best medicine yet.

The worst part about this no-cure-disease is that lying down makes it worse. Your breathing apparatus goes faulty and you have to use the closest spare part to breathe, which means you get thirsty soon, and then you have to drink water and then you need to relieve yourself and well, you get the drift. And then you have to breathe the vicksy steam which gets into other pores and blocks your vision and hearing ability too. And the world does not care about mere common cold, which happens to the mango people. You should at least get a more respectable disease like Dengue or Ebola or H1N1 which make the front page news.

I never had issues with fever and flu kind of symptoms. I dealt with it often enough when young. Every month at times. My dad was prompt to take me to the nearest clinic, squat on the handle of the bicycle earlier and carrier later. The only part of the visit I hated was the apparatus they put down the throat to look down into it. I gagged every time it happened and the only remark of the doctor used to be “you are ultra sensitive”. Once I was so ( for want of a better word) so sensitive, I puked even before it was put in my mouth. I would then take a week of antibiotics and get better only to repeat the cycle few weeks later. Unlike a friend who did not believe in doctors. She would brave the illness for as long as she could and finally go and pay the doctors fees, get a prescription and immediately feel better.

I was in class VII, I think, when I almost broke my leg. That time my only unfulfilled wish was – I wish I had broken my leg, so many people would have come to visit me, I would have been almost famous. As I was returning home from school in a three-wheeler, the driver took a turn, toppled over and the bar that you normally hold to keep your balance, fell over my leg and I was stuck under the auto, stunned, but nothing broken, lots of bruises as my leg rubbed against the road gravel and a deep gash where the bar pinned my leg. I screamed and shouted, till someone picked me up. I was rushed to the most handsome doctor around and I could just stare at him with a open mouth while he did the dressing. No school for the next few days. Oh no, I hated not going to school. Hearing the news, my friend came to visit me and I jumped with joy despite the pain, showing off the big bandage but that I could walk.

In class XI, I got infected with typhoid. And during exams at that. I still remember, 21 days of continuous high fever and body ache. All that was fine, the problem was my mom did not let me study. The popular belief that eyesight would be effected, took a precedence over my examination results. I had to find my own way out. Thanks to the fluffy fat रज़ाई , armed with a torch, my entire study during that month happened in torchlight beneath the quilt. My mom doesn’t know till date, how I cleared those exams without studying.

The most expensive cold was probably an year after my marriage. I had my usual episode of cold and cough and fever. Went to the lady doctor in the nearby apartment, who prescribed some antibiotics. A week, no change, she prescribed a higher dose. Another week went by, no change, all she did was, ” अच्छा, अभी भी ठीक नहीं हुआ, और strong medicine दे देते है।”  By his time everybody was worried. My husband came home from office and my dad told him with a very worried tone and face- Anuraag, तुमसे बहुत ज़रूरी बात करनी है। Poor guy, उसका तो दिल बैठ गया।  What happened? Jhilmil को इतने दिनों से बुखार है, ठीक ही नहीं हो रहा, क्या करे? Tell me something new, exasperated he. My dad had this awesome habit of much ado about nothing. Anyway, Time to switch doctors. Guess who treated me. For those who have read the electrical engineer’s handbook, B. L. Theraja’s son. He took couple of days and a small nasal surgery to take out an inch long obstruction from my nose, which, according to him, was the major cause of all my cold episodes in the past few years.

Pune has given me a new problem called allergic cold. The first year I landed here, from April to September, I sneezed every day without fail, and not a couple of light ones, but body shaking, earth shattering, face reddening sneezes which the faint-hearted cannot handle. It took me two years and various ( yeah, believe it or not) therapies to get rid of the same. Or maybe my system just got used to the weather and pollen.  Even today my dealing in spices is restricted as that just results in a Cetrizine later. Achooo!

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A winter in Paris

Sounds exotic. But sounds can be deceptive. Long long back, we stayed in Paris ( well actually a suburb called St. Germain), but well, to sound pricey, Pari, with an accent. Before the travel, we were warned that the French speak French and only French and we had to take a few weeks of lesson before embarking on the journey. The lessons did a lot of good, they taught me that a dictionary is a must for anything beyond “bon jour”.

Learning is beyond cultural and language boundaries. Couple of days after we landed, we had to pick up our rental cars. We were also supposed to get a day’s driving lesson the very next day. Notice the cliche, pick up the car a day before, drive it all the way home, and go next day to learn how to drive in France. Wrong way round? When in France, do it the French way, I guess.

I don’t know why the French don’t drive on the left of the road like the more familiar half of the world. It took a few minutes to get used to the gears on the right hand, it was all उल्टा-पुल्टा really. The route was unfamiliar, you had to follow rules, you could not honk, signboards were in an alien language and all the silly things that you see in the west. I stopped at a red light and as it turned green ( it was dusk, up above the cancer, it gets to be night at 4-5 pm). As the light turned green, I drove right into a full beamed cluster of four wheelers, horns blazing, brakes screeching as I realized, I had mixed up left and right. Survived as I overcame my folly and reacted quickly enough.

The journey home was not yet over. I had to get lost. Took one wrong turn and moved around aimlessly before my sense of direction prevailed, retraced the car steps back to the wrong turn and took the right left turn. Needless to say, the driving lesson next day went pretty smoothly except that my trainer thought I was a pretty dangerous driver.

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braving the zero degrees in the most beautiful city

Our apartment had wooden floors and I had a 6 year old who loved stomping around and talking at the top of his voice. He was specially high energy in the evening, when I would come home from work and cook. Now if the French want to sleep at 6 pm, it is their problem, how can I stop a kid from playing during normal play hours. Soon enough we were paid a visit by our neighbors from one floor below. The lady, who was expecting, started off in a full volley of French, giving all the local गाली she knew ( or so it felt like), no matter how many times I said “ja ne comprends”, she refused to acknowledge it. Her husband / boyfriend, hovering apologetically around in the background, explained “she resorts to French when she is excited, she is not able to sleep because of all the noise, so can you please” and then onward we had to tiptoe and whisper around the home.

Being a vegetarian has its own problem in that country. If you ask for a vegetarian burger, they remove the patti and give you the bun along with the घास-फूस. French fries too smelled strange. Our lunch used to be a mess in a mess where we would get a good variety of bread, yogurt, but with it, boiled spinach and beans. For us Indians with our spicy tongue, ingesting that is a huge issue, the food refuses to go down the food pipe. And doing that every day was no mean feat. The only good outcome was that we lost all the fat we had gathered in 30 years in India in those few months and I could fit in a waist size of 30″, which was like once in a lifetime achievement. I have never been able to fit into the clothes I bought there ever since. Our weekend grocery shopping would happen armed with a dictionary, you pick up an item, read its spelling, find what it is called in English and whether our Indian vegetarian tongues could handle it.

In India we are so used to working on weekends and holidays, we did not expect anything different there. We decided to visit office on a Saturday, and reached only to find the office was closed and locked and there was no way we could enter. Monday we asked our friendly cubicle hood neighbor, and his response was – why do you need to come to office? Don’t you have anything better to do? You are in Paris, man! And then he clarified, you actually need permission from the commissioner of police to work on holidays and weekends and it just isn’t  worth it unless the sky is falling. So we decided to put our weekends to better use.

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St Malo over a weekend

Crossing the road was a funny experience. Being used to Indian traffic that refuses to acknowledge the presence of pedestrians, you think a number of times before you put your foot forward. I did, and retracted it as I saw a car coming. But the car stopped. I too stopped. We both waited for the other to go. After a couple of minutes, the driver opened his window and shouted some gibberish. A kind fellow behind me told me to cross the road as he could not go otherwise. Well, you live and learn.

You can find Indians selling Eiffel Tower miniatures and key chains around the tourist attractions and as expected, that is one place you can haggle till he comes down to 10 key chains in one Euro. And that guy doesn’t leave you at that. Being fellow countryman, he keeps following you till you buy picture postcards, and the imitation goggles also and then tell him in no uncertain terms to buzz off. The middle class mentality forced us to convert every cost to INR before a purchase and exclaim- कितना महँगा है। we are so good at the mental mathematics, we look for the bargains where the white guy would not dare enter.

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The mystic magnificent Eiffel

The country honks one day in the year, all the frustration comes out as all cars go around Champs-Elysee’s and honk to celebrate the onset of the new year.