She had trouble seeing. He was not particularly mobile. But these were secondary observations. There was something very sensual about the way he stroked her hair as he combed it every morning. Then I found a roomful of women, mostly over eighty, dancing to ?Never on a Sunday?. My perceptions of old age needed serious rethinking.
ON THE outskirts of the village of Shibaloy, just past the brick factory, the car slows to let a cow lumber out of its way. It is a good sign. Twenty years ago there was no brick factory, or any other industry, in this village 60 kilometres west of Dhaka; there were few cows, and no cars. The road was a raised path too narrow for anything except bicycles. Continue reading “The path through the fields”
‘He has seen me without clothes mummy, how embarassing‘ said my nine year old a few days ago, when I suggested we go and visit the doctor who delivered her to this world. I reassured her that he had seen her mummy without clothes. She was livid.
Nine years ago today, I sat in the queue at the gyneacology clinic at Sri Jayawardenapura Hospital, shifting my uneasy weight from side to side. ?I tried to stay composed amongst very brave and solid women from all over the country. The discomfort was annoying. Usually I help out in clinics by holding older siblings of babies to come or mothers wobbling around not knowing what to do. ?But that day, I just sat waiting for someone to take care of me.
The nurse made us line up to be weighed and pressure checked. I wobbled on my swollen feet. This one was so different. The other two had been a breeze. I just wanted to get back home. I was standing in the queue trying to hold myself up, when I saw my gynocologist,?Dr Hemantha Perera,at the end of the queue. He took one look at me and his face turned like the halloween pumpkin that suited the day – 31 October. He was a harsh, cold and ruthless but brilliant gyno, the best in the country serving in a state hospital. He could tell my condition without laying a finger on me.
He roughly asked the assistant doctors what I was doing standing in a clinic. ‘She should be taken to the OT immediately’?he said. ‘Does she not care for the baby?’ he asked out loud as if I wasn’t even there. He knew my case from a month back when I had gone to him bleeding heavily but begged him to keep the baby. ?I told him I was only feeling discomfort but there was no show of baby coming any time soon. I had 2-3 weeks more to go. He put me on the table like a cucumber and checked me over. ‘Take her NOW‘ he shouted. I was terrified. The nurses ran around like elves in Santa’s workshop. I got off the examination table and walked away to the reception area and sat down trying to make a call to someone. Anyone. Strange how a mobile phone becomes a lump of metal and plastic when you need to get someone in a hurry. I tried and tried I couldnt remember any numbers. I didn’t want to go in as yet. I was not ready. I wasn’t ready for the C-Section. I wasn’t ready for the baby. I wasn’t ready for anything. I just wanted to lie down and sleep on my father’s lap. And then the phone rang. It was my father. He was 72 miles away but his voice couldnt have been any closer. He prayed. He said, ‘Just do what the doctor says. Dont contradict‘.
I had no bag of clothes, I had no water, I had nothing in hand except my papers and a baby in my stomach. When I stepped out of the lift at ward 9, my doctor was standing in the corridor. I got a barrage of expletives from him. Again he spoke like I wasn’t even around. I was roughly taken to the prep room and shaved and shorn and pricked and prodded. The nurse was so nervous she put the OT gown the wrong way. I stood there with my boobs and swollen belly totally exposed and my butt nicely covered. I had to re-dress standing right there in public. I took off my jewelery and looked around, there was no family to hand it over to. Ear-rings, chain and cross that my parents gave me when I got married. I held them tight in my fist till the cross dug deep into my palm. It left a mark. Doctor saw me fumbling and scowled. He asked a nurse to take it over. I kissed the cross and gave it not knowing if I will see them again. I wondered if the older two had got back home from school. I wondered who will feed them. I wanted badly to go back. But I was lying on a stretcher, turning right when doc said left.
I was left outside the OT for about 30 minutes till the doctor prepped the students and the other assistants. I tried to imagine the next day. It was all a blur. Then I saw green gumboots next to my stretcher. A young, muslim doctor who had seen me in the clinics, was standing next to me, pulling up his green gloves. ‘Don’t worry, all the doctors are here today, you are very lucky Sir himself is doing the C-Section‘ Sir was my doctor. Usually he instructs and others carry out. He was like god to them. I wanted him to be that. ? I wanted him to be kind to me, say one word to reassure me and my baby. But from behind his mask, stared cold, sterile eyes. I wanted to make a connection with him before I was knocked out. When they lay me on the Op table, I grabbed his hand. He glared at me in surprise. For a moment steel eyes softened. He nodded and I guess smiled behind the mask. I will never know. But that was enough. Then he started explaining to me my condition. Not much I could do but nod while the oxygen mask was over my face. Just before the anesthetics were given, he came around near my face, leaned over and said ‘I might have to make some emergency decisions once I open you up, you will have to trust me’ ?I was knocked out before I could answer.?Trickster.
I woke up 4 hours later hearing him scolding me again. ‘Bloody mess you were, that baby is a miracle to have survived. Take her home and look after her carefully‘ and I never saw him again. ?It’s been nine years since that day. I have seen articles about him in the papers on and off. I don’t know if I took care of my baby ‘carefully’ and I don’t know if I have told her enough times what a miracle she is. I don’t know if I have told her enough about the wonderful doctors this country has produced and is blessed with. Doctors who serve their people in difficult circumstances. Who, through all their steely resolves, save lives of babies and mothers. Who have produced even-more brilliant doctors after them.
Zoe has made up her mind to visit him and his ward and is hoping he won’t remember her naked days. But I do want to remind him. And her. That life doesn’t come easy. From nakedness to nakedness, life IS a miracle.
The UN estimates there are around half a million chronic heroin users in Pakistan, with many living in the country’s biggest city Karachi. But help for addicts is in short supply, and locking them up is one of the only forms of treatment.
The street outside Zainab market in Karachi is a great place for people-watching. Everyone has a story. A moment of eye contact can inspire an entire imagined history. Traders, customers, students – and heroin addicts.
It is here I talked to 26-year-old Hussain. With him there is no need to imagine. All dark skin and scars, Hussain has been plagued by addiction most of his adult life. Continue reading “Karachi heroin addicts: Cold turkey the only cure”