Wednesday, 17 July 2013

American Hospitality

Fire works lit the sky

I had my maiden trip to the US, the land of perfume, in June 2006. The purpose was to visit my brother in LA. But, just before boarding the flight, I was a bit nervous. For, besides visiting my bro, I planned to attend Prem Rawat Maharaj Ji’s [also known as Guru Maharaj and Balayogeshwar, is a native of India, who teaches a meditation practice he calls Knowledge] meetings to be held in and around LA; meet the congregation thereat and have interaction with them.

Raised in a closed and conservative environment and tied to a restrictive cultural stake, I had been an introvert for long … a pants wearing frog living in the well. So, I worried about my shyness … worried about how the Americans, as they belong to a high-strung, no-holds-barred, permissive society, would be disposed to a brawny Asian. I knew it was only my misconception. Nevertheless, it was nagging at my mind all through my journey.

 4th of July, 2006. America was celebrating her Independence Day. I saw congregations of well-dressed white people standing or sitting in the meadows in a park. Children were screaming with joy and some of them peddling their tiny cycles around the park. A happy, festive mood hung in the air. All necks remained craned to the sky, eyes too riveted on it.

My bro’s family and I were sitting in a lonely meadow shawled with mists. Since we felt the place was not comfortable to watch the fireworks, we shifted ourselves to another place strewn with dried and dead leaves. When the show was about to start, we found we’d missed our car keys in the place where we were sitting minutes back. We rushed to the spot and started googling for them. We got disappointed thinking we would be missing the fireworks if we would search for the damned car keys.

When we were wringing our hands in utter helplessness, I saw an American lady coming to our rescue. She introduced herself as Dorothy Lessing -- may be a Brit American. She said:’Hi, I know what you are searching. Please go watch the fireworks and let me find out your keys.’ She smiled at us and then engaged herself in ‘the operation-search-keys’. We were a bit hesitant and then, at her persistent insistence, moved reluctantly a few yards from the meadow and started watching the grand sky show.

Lit by the fireworks, the sky looked more ominous than ever with a potpourri of colors. Sparks of light traveled across the sky; they suddenly transformed themselves into shapes of lions, tigers, elephants and deer. Then we saw a fully blossomed flower with honeybees swarming it. There were shadows of men and women holding hands; an American flag was found fluttering. Crowds screamed with joy and excitement. We stood mesmerized, unable to take out our eyes from the sky.

After regaling the crowds with their amazing feats of lights, the fireworks came to an end and the sky became grey again. People started leaving the park and the cacophonies of car horns brought us out of our trance.

‘Enjoyed the fireworks,’ Lessing asked us. She stood before us letting out her captivating smile, our car keys in her hand. She didn’t watch the fireworks, but spent her time in tracking down our keys.

‘Sorry, Lessing’, I sputtered as I was intrigued by a sort of guiltiness. ‘It’s because of us you couldn’t watch the fireworks.’

‘Oh, no, she laughed. ‘I can watch the fireworks next year, but you can’t. You’re our guests … going to be here for some time.’

‘What a hospitality,’ I exclaimed, overwhelming with emotions.

 ‘Please say American hospitality’, Lessing laughed again, and in no time disappeared into the crowd.

While the sky still remained calm and grey, I had a lot of fireworks going on in my mind which ultimately burnt out all my misconceptions about US and the citizens. The country now seemed not the land of perfume, but the land of hospitality.

I could still smell the perfume of Lessing’s hospitality.

Image courtesy: Google

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Doctor, Heal Thyself

[My childhood memories, both sweet and sour, are many and varied. They still linger in my heart as I cherish them and safe keep them from the onslaughts of Time. One such dramatic and sad experience that stands out still in the vault of my memory is my encounter with a quack. It happened when I was early in my teens.]

Faced with pecuniary hardships, DU [Doctor Uncle, my neighbor], had decades back, discontinued his medical studies and become a doctor … a self-made-pseudo doctor. His working in a clinic as a paramedic gave him the audacity to call him a doctor.

As luck had it, he soon became famous and most sought-after doctor in my area. For, people believed that he had some mystical healing power in him and his mere touch on the patients would cure them of their ailments. However, aunty [DU’s wife] never gave a fig to such beliefs, calling them rubbish and DU a quack.

Though past 50, DU looked smart with his French goatee and neatly groomed hair. [Hair!!! He had only strands and that too at the back of his head, which, with much effort, he had combed it and brought it to the front just to hide his gleaming pate]. I always saw him wearing dhoti in a Diwan-like style, sporting a black coat over his shirt.

Saturn led my dad to take me to DU when I had an earache for days on end. Leaving me to the doctor’s custody, my dad went on his official tour. DU peered into my ear with the help of a flashlight and tweaked it gently. He then became contemplative for a while and said: ‘Only people afflicted with brain tumor will have such unbearable earache.’ I hardly heard what he said as I felt like blasted and blown into pieces. I screamed my head off and my body trembled.

However, DU was cool. He consoled me saying that he could cure all kinds of tumors, both benign and malignant, with his ‘Touch Therapy’, a device he had acquired after a long research. I stood wonder-struck. Later, when I was watching the film Munna Bhai M.B.B.S, an involuntary thought about DU flashed my addled head.

More grueling was the following day. I went into tears and refused when DU asked me to get a tonsure. He then took me to a dingy lab and had me undergone all the medical tests he knew by his books/journals. We also went to an ENT specialist as DU wanted a second opinion on his diagnosis. ‘Hell with his diagnosis; this cad only takes me for a ride,’ I moaned.

The ENT was a baldie, had untrimmed bushes of hair falling on the sides of his head. I was scared of his bushy mustache and pock --marked face. He had a cache of medical instruments displayed on his table. Not allowing me to take a second look at his ‘stockpile’, he lifted up my chin and peered into my ear as DU did before.

To my great shock, the ENT took out a small tong from his cache, shoved it into my ailing ear, twisted it a bit and pulled it away as fast as he could not minding my screams. Gosh, out came with the tong was a bit of a broken pencil, which I recalled I had thrust into my ear a week back. ‘Had been searching this bloody stub for long’, I shouted with joy and tried to release me from the grip of the ENT.

But, he didn’t let me go. He poured some stingy jell into my beleaguered ear and covered it with a big bandage, which ran across my face and covered my left eye too. I felt looking like another Moshe Dayan. ‘Sure, it’s a value-added to my semi-deafness’, I moaned again.
‘Who the nut?’ the ENT snarled at me throwing the pencil bit into the dustbin. ‘Who got you into all those bloody tests when you’re in perfect health?’

‘Doctor Uncle’, I mumbled.

‘Why, did you call me uncle?’ the ENT growled, twirling his mustache. ‘Yes … no’, I sputtered. He looked at me sternly for a moment and then blared out, ‘uh, you mean that old bloke with a black coat. I saw him sneaking out of my room when I was taking the pencil bit from your ear.’

Aghast I stood, cursing DU and calling him names. I didn’t know even today how I escaped from the ENT’s ominous spell.

 I went to the DU’s house again after six months. Aunty was persistently inviting me home as she was outraged over the ordeal I underwent due to her quack husband’s wrong diagnosis. I was puzzled seeing DU sitting on a bench in his room which was once his clinic. He was clean shaven. His pate was more gleaming than ever due to the conspicuous absence of even a few strands of hair. ‘Who robbed his black coat?’ I thought.

 His table too was clean and tidy. There was no trace of medical books/journals. It was now decked up with volumes of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Reading my mind, Aunty said: ‘Easwar, I’ve banned his doctor business; I’ll never allow him to play that game again after what he had done to you.’ She went to the kitchen to brew tea for me.

I smiled triumphantly at DU, but he, the maverick, took a bunch of papers from one of the volumes of Ramayana and showed them to me. No doubt, they were patient’s call sheets tucked away cleverly in between the pages of the two epics. The call sheets hinted DU’s calling on the patients at their homes instead of having them called him at his clinic.

‘A mobile clinic. Tell your dad that he too can call me to your house if you people like,’ DU murmured and smiled at me rather impishly.

And that triggered my running away from his house abruptly without waiting for auntie. I ran home so swiftly and recklessly, which I never did in the past nor would do it in my lifetime.