Friday, June 28, 2013

Speaking Words of Wisdom

Long post. Something to sink your teeth into.

Given the fact that the author's grandfather was a doctor, it is rather ironic that both she and her family share an anathema for the Hippocratic guild. Most ailments were greeted with little or no fuss, so much so that the germs soon got bored of our indifference and left the building faster than you could say "Elvis". A perfectly decent method, but the situation is a little different when the source of discomfort isn't  a real pathogen. And, when the epicenter of pain is located at the back of your mouth.

When it comes to wisdom teeth, here's a word of advice- don't let it be.

The mater's tryst with toothache crumbled the foundations of her dental state. Literally. She opted for dental care only after the tooth began to actually crumble into little shards-- up until then it was the classic clove oil /ice treatment. Having worn her wisdom tooth down to a stub, and rendered her face asymmetrically swollen, she finally swallowed the bitter pill that she needed help with her dental work. As it turned out, it was quite a bit of work. In keeping with the family character, her (now) tiny wisdom tooth had roots that ran deep, stubborn and twisted. The dentist probably wrenched his shoulder trying to get the tooth out, and it didn't help that he had an angry twelve year old staring daggers at him for the unspeakable violence he was inflicting, no matter that her mother's mouth was insensible. Following a tug of of war, which left the dentist bathed in sweat and heaving for breath, my mother emerged  cotton-mouthed, pain free and generally rejuvenated. Even the returned feeling to her benumbed mouth could not compare to the agony from before and she had admit she was much better. Following this episode, dentists were deemed ok. Sort of .

Which would explain why the advent of an impacted wisdom tooth in the daughter was greeted with prompt marching orders to the nearest dentist.

In a clear case of a spatial paradox, my big mouth's jaw was too small for all the wisdom bursting out of it. True, the molars had begun to make their presence felt quite a while back, but their no-pain-no-gain policy was largely benevolent, allowing for life to continue uneventfully regardless of space crunch issues on the jawline. Unfortunately, the right-wing tooth decided that it was time to go Lokpal (Lok-pallu. hehehe.) and demand justice. It ached, throbbed, got a swollen sense of self, generally became a pain in the head. And would have been ignored as usual if not for the fact that phone calls had to be conducted through gritted teeth all the better for not moving the jaw-- apparently this is a dead give away even if you are a state and bad phone-line away. The maternal instruction was augmented by additional exhortations from other quarters which gained traction from the simple agony of angry tooth. The final blow was the fact that a hunger-driven sortie to the mess saw me effectively destroying multiple appetites through my pained winces at every chew. A day of cold compressing and badly disguised phone-winces later I had to accept the sad truth: It was time to see a doctor. Damn it.
Then came the inevitable verdict.
The tooth had to come out. Urgh.

Let me clarify the context. The only time I'd gone for a tooth extraction was waaaaaaay back when my age was still a single digit number. All dental escapades that followed, were conducted by yours truly (I distinctly remember pulling out both my loose canines on the same evening simply because I was bored.) The thought of a dentist navigating these uncharted territories was a huge breach of privacy. Besides, being in a dentists chair is a supremely undignified position, splayed like an upended beetle with your mouth is wide open,constantly worried that your over-sensitive gag reflex will kick in an spew out. It didn't help that my brain, usually reticent and retiring, chose to to efficiently relay my tenth standard Ogden Nash lesson word for word. And when that memory was pushed aside, it decided to remind me of this movie. Ah the vagaries of the mind.

In all fairness, the most uncomfortable part was getting the anesthetic injection. Your mouth has been subjected to a lot of things, but being poked in the gums with a sharp needle is not one of them. Understandably, the reaction is not the most pleasant. In any case, the introduction of chemical assistance rendered the entire right side of my face, and a large part of the left, impervious to all sensation. It would have been a good day to get my threading done, had circumstances been different. Now that the face was properly benumbed, there was no more stalling. Extraction time. Once again Ogden Nash's infernal poem ran slides in my head as the doc pulled on his mask and took out what looked like a wrench-spanner hybrid and a pygmy chisel-lever. Just as the good doctor leveled the first blow, the author's mind began providing a beautiful background score of the magnificent Reethigowla Ragam she was learning at the moment ( and which will now probably be permanently associated with dentistry). Ah the vagaries of the mind.

The wisdom tooth, like beloved Will's love, does not "...bend with the remover to remove...". True, there was no epic battle as in the case of the Mater's molar, but the dentist did have to put in a couple of extra ounces of muscle into the task. The tooth did not want to come out and its roots clung stubbornly to my jaw. The dentist dug and pulled and twisted and pulled and poked and  pulled and tugged and pulled and pulled, trying to shake the tooth out of its foundations. My mouth, desensitized as it was, twinged in sympathetic discomfort.  And some annoyance too, since the doctor's enthusiastic levering was stretching the mouth in to unbelievable shapes. Through all the pulling and chipping and poking, the author's consciousness, still pleasantly serenaded with classical music, fixed itself upon the fact that the doctor had the kind of perfectly curved eyebrows that were positively wasted on a man.  Once again, we wonder at the vagaries of the mind.

Just as I was beginning to draft a complaint to the powers that be regarding the dentist's unfair eyebrow advantage, with a last wrenching tug the tooth came out. And what a tooth it was! Large with solid curved roots that could and did hold its ground, it was the Leonidas of my dental Thermopylae: no wonder it was causing so much trouble. But I didn't have much time to contemplate the beauty of my lost wisdom. Bereft of the distraction of mental background music and curved eyebrows, the senses were suddenly assaulted by the nauseating miasma of acrid chemical, the bitter taste and smell of latex gloves and the overpowering scent of blood that flooded the mouth. This general discomfort was compounded by the insertion of large wads of cotton in mutilated area which promptly set gag-reflexes jumping .The author was suddenly very glad she hadn't eaten anything before the performance. Tamping down on the rising bile was made difficult by the fact that all the muscles on the gagging side weren't listening to you. Providence kept the contents of the stomach where it belonged and the dentist escaped unscathed. Cotton in place and blood wiped away, normalcy was more or less regained except for a slight tendency to lose control over the right side of face and the very real danger of drooling and not knowing it. Communication for the large part was carried out with animated head shakes, expressive eye-rolling and an erstwhile unplumbed talent for dumb-charades; a very amusing turn of events for spectators like the pharmacist and his assistant who seemed to have great fun trying to figure out what I was trying to say.

Opting to walk rather than trying to communicate destination and fare to autodriver-bretheren gave me the time to contemplate the fate of the tooth. I had tried to redeem it as a souvenir of the experience, but it had already been disposed of. I suppose in a sense I mourned it's loss-- that overlarge piece of enamel that clung  so tenaciously, so desperately to a jaw that simply could not accommodate it, now lying at the bottom of an alien dustbin. But then again, it would only have decayed in the claustrophobic cavity of the jaw, destined to being whittled into a tiny half-shard of itself, that would only get attention through pain and torture. Better by far that it free itself in this early age, strong and white. Or so I tell myself. Returning to hostel, to what would be the first of many bowls of cold oats, I toast the lost tooth: your memory lives on in all the grains of rice that will inevitably end up in the shallow niche that you left behind, reminding me that gaps will be filled whether you want it or not. Rest in (one) piece.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tech Support

Apologies in advance. It started out small and then grew out of control before anything could be done. Much like the Author's gizmo-collection.

Most of those who have the dubious fortune of acquaintance-ship with the Author know that she is what is known as a "techno-dud of epic proportions". It is quite possible that her genealogy may be traced back to that particular line of neanderthals who were most loath to move away from beloved rock and stick and move on to iron tools. Whether they are phones, computers or ipods, gadgets fail to garner interest.

This ambivalence is not entirely without reason. From an early age it was drilled into me that technology was way more trouble than it was worth. This line of thought was nurtured by the fact that a) I studied in a school where most electrical implements were guaranteed to malfunction. Especially when you need them to work. b) Whenever something went wrong with the TV/ Computer and later the mobile, the first reaction of the adults was "What did you do?!"(Though in all honesty they are not entirely to blame; every once in a while we really WERE the cause.) Of course neither of these factors deterred my brother from turning into a connoisseur of electronic excellence, but he is the exception in our family's general trend of gaping ignorance in all things gizmo-like.

Perhaps the beginning of the change was when I first left home. The momentous leap from school to farway college and consequent hostel-dom made the acquisition of erstwhile avoided cell-phone inevitable. This foray into the alien practices was still limited to basic applications- bluetooth and other colour-coded activities did not register in the list of phoney skills. The mobile situation did, however, teach my mother and myself the fine art of texting. My father on the other hand remained steadfastly disinclined (in fact, it took at least 5 years and a rather troublesome episode in the airport for him to finally condescend to carry a mobile phone). Be that as it may, the initiation into the tech-world convinced the family that there was some profit in discovering the New World of gadgetry. And who better to experiment than the eldest far away.The years that followed were characterised by tenaciously typed typo-riddled texts, several backfired or missed phone calls, painfully saved and lost data, terrified panic attacks at having pressed the wrong button and thinly veiled threats of family funded technological upgrades which were constantly and firmly rebuffed. I really didn't want more equipment than I already had and went to great lengths to dissuade my parents from appliance-benevolence. I recall a sleepy afternoon, made sleepier still by my monologue on the travails of fighting off electronic instruments, when Sirgit turned around and asked me quite seriously, "Are you crazy?" I suppose to the general public such an anti-gadget stance seems strange. The fact is, these things were a necessity, and the ancestry of the the thing's circuitry did little to electrify my interest. Plus, they scared me-there are either too many buttons, or none at all!

For all my fighting against the industrial revolution of my mechanical life, in the course of eight years my family has managed to press upon me a digital camera (beloved Digi, who I still refuse to part with regardless of her obvious decrepitude), a laptop (Zephyr of the fried right-click fame, a comrade without whom my M.A-Ph.D life would be unthinkable.), mp3 players (beloved Tony I and later, when he kicked the bucket, Tony II, partner to all my journeys, rainscapades, and miscellaneous occasions that require a soundtrack- including but not limited to assignment submission, frenzied cleaning, angry walks in the middle of the night or simply the middle of the night.). A small external hard-drive (Satine of the glossy black skin and insufficient disk space for all my music), a big external hard-drive (Passepartout, named after the super-resourceful right-hand of the intrepid Phileas Fogg, but mostly because he declared himself Passport when first plugged in). And of course my sturdy Nokia (who is called just that because to call her anything else detracts from her impervious, super-toughness. It would be like calling the Rock, Dwayne Johnson.) As you can see, I have been quite effective.

This appliance-boom has also seen a congruent techno-improvement on the family side. My brother, who was never held back by the debilitating tech-fear as I was, is a certified expert on all things electronic. My mother has scaled great heights of telephone and internet competence by being proficient at not only texting and telephoning, but also at navigating the world wide web with a fair amount of confidence. Even the Pater, averse as he is to any kind of telephone related duties, has , of late begun to frame full sentences in the messaging/mailing scheme. This is a truly momentous development considering my father's typing episodes usually entail long spells of searching for the right key, getting worked-up if the screen throws something he wasn't expecting (eg: a pop-up ad, a new tab, the wrong letter.) and finally throwing up his hands in frustration and badgering one of us to write the godforsaken thing on his behalf.
But apparently things have really changed.
My Father suggested we take to chatting online.

The temptation to vigorously clean my ears and keep repeating "huh?" was the overriding reaction when my mother relayed the conversation. Several sputters later, I heard the explanation. "With the situation in Kuwait being the way it is, the officials are cracking down on the online-phone calls. The mobile keeps running out of charge and balance. This way he can talk to us consistently."
The image of my father hunched over the keyboard, forehead creased in concentration, hitting one slow, painful key at a time flashes in my mind.

When I first left home, everyday  for the first three months would see a meticulously typed text and a phone call in the evening. Every break was punctuated with extensive photo sessions and concentrated memory-making. The advent of internet facilities brought the laptop. The burgeoning work and data brought the hard-drives, and my family's unflagging and sometimes misplaced appreciation for my music- the mp3 players. And even now, a veteran of transits, moves and farewells I find myself supported, whether I want it or not. 

Robert Frost wrote "Home is the place where,/ when you have to  go there,/ they have to take you in." With some luck and a lot of love, I have been able to fashion home everywhere I went. And I have the great good fortune of incredibly reliable, albeit occasionally over-enthusiastic tech-support from head-office. But then it wouldn't be the same without that over-zealous element, now would it?

This time they got me a new phone. Oh God!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rain Lovesong

Many thanks to Resham George for the title and the lovely song.

Living most of your life in a desert and later in two decidedly arid cities, makes precipitation of the torrential kind a delightful treat. And since, like in most things, the Author tends to work in extremes, this fascination for rain tends to tip towards eccentric.

Simply put, I love the rain.
I can make a literary case for it: Rain is like a physical manifestation of Wordsworth's much quoted "spontaneous over-flow of powerful feelings".Only it doesn't wait for tranquility. It arrives when it does, and does not give you a choice about whether or not you are ready for the downpour. I suppose that too is a part of the charm. Rain does not allow secrets; it drenches you completely, seeking the fissures in your soul and filling them to the brim. It renders all the time you spent worrying about what to wear useless because at the end you'll still just "...look like a  cat that stuck its nose into a socket that shocked it" (once again, thank you Resham George). And yet the rain loves you, regardless-- and probably because of-- the fact that you really can't hide from him. Of course he can be quite frustrating. Like when he signals his arrival with so much promise employing all the fanfare of flushed skies, thunderous laughter and lightning smiles only to go speeding away on the wings of a smirking wind. Worse still is the half-hearted rain where he is just showing waaaaaay too much attitude. Times like these you wish the rain was an actual person rather than a personified entity so you could give him a piece of your mind. Yet, even as you pout in disappointment, you know he's probably doing that only to see you pissed off and looking like an idiot. Humph.

Thing is, you don't stand a chance against  so much exuberant bonhomie. The rain, in his overwhelming loving, washes out everything leaving you clean, pristine and strangely rejuvenated. Even the dirt is a happier brown after a good downpour. The rain drowns out all the doubts, the anxieties and replaces it with either the soft, comforting whisper of a gentle shower, or the excited applause of a million droplets, or the exhorting teasing of a bullying deluge. The rain renews, revitalises and reminds one that there is nothing so bad that a good cloudburst cannot wash away. The rain hugs you close and lets you expend your emotions, letting your tears meld with his or rumbling an answering laugh to yours. And then there is the quiet content of sipping a cup of hot chai  while watching the rain run riot, soaking in the joy of knowing that there is always beauty in the world. Even if it does cause power cuts and jams traffic.

I love the rain because it reminds me that regardless of how small you are in the wide world, the world still loves you. That small raindrop that hits your face is a kiss from the universe, telling you that there is still something to look forward to. The wind has been picking up outside my window and I expect to hear the soft rumble of thunder some time tonight. The first rains are finally arriving and life, once again, is made possible.

On reading Red Sorghum

I usually do not do book reviews, neither do I enjoy them. I am of the general opinion that everyone should be allowed to figure out if they like a book or not, with no external help; much like with people. But every once in a while a book comes along to remind you of your supreme naivete. In our sanguine smugness and misplaced faith in reason we tend to analyse, assimilate and file away experiences to be fished out as convenient anecdotes. The reality of the episode fades with time, repetition and with this basic act of classification, and we begin to use these instances only as precedents to support a case. We are argumentative and competitive and rarely, if ever, dwell on a moment long enough to allow it to seep into the bedrock of our psyches.

And then,  suddenly, you realise that realities are real, not manageable instances. No matter how much you 'manage' them, its graphic nature can never be veiled.

Like I said, I don't like book reviews. I prefer to go in blind. But this book deserved a word, not of praise but of caution. It will not negotiate, it invades. It does not forgive, it demands vengeance. It cannot give, it drowns. And most importantly, it stays.

Reading Red Sorghum is an exercise of agonised fascination. Mo Yan does not give the reader any respite, he is as ruthless as his characters and seems to take the untold-- or rather the excrutiatingly described-- violence in the same matter of fact, survivalist mien as they do. Watching a movie allows you the ephemeral comfort of closing your eyes to avoid the horrifying. The book will not brook such cowardice. And so, regardless of the fact that your insides are cringing, you continue reading. Just like the characters in the book.
They only stop when they are dead, just as we can only stop reading at the end of the book. It drains you, stretches you taut and thin and brings home the fact that you know nothing, can never know and that you should pray that it remains that way; because to know is to never be able to ignore.

The closing pages of the book describes the changed landscape of the place of setting-- Mo Yan's only lapse into blatant allegorical eloquence. Filled with a deep and abiding guilt at the inadequacy of the present to live up to the past, the author finally helps you name that terrible ache in your chest, so smothered by horror and shock. It is shame: the shame of not being that original, the true seed of the earth that aught to stand tall and proud instead doomed to the boxed existence of pet rabbits. And yet, underneath that crushing realisation, one also knows that we came from this cruel, loving, avenging earth and will return to it no matter how many times we are exhumed from our rest or fight its reclaiming tug- this too is true.

Ah literature, love of my life.