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Published: September 29th 2009
After reading over my last blog entry, I decided I have been too hard on India. After all, I am just living here for a short time, and a billion people seem to be able to call it home. So I will reserve my judgments for Delhi, and leave the rest of India open to interpretation. I have been to some wonderful places (Mamallapuram, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Benares), and though I am not a fan of Indian culture, I can certainly appreciate that others enjoy it.
India does some how function. It may not grow, it may not progress, but it operates. For instance, I had a very interesting trip to the doctor’s office a few weeks ago. I had a mole on my forehead (which my Dad called skin cancer and I called a wart) that had developed since being in India, one which was unsightly and offensive. I decided that I wanted it removed, and whether or not I would enjoy Delhi, I would at least not sprout warts because of it. Plus, my Dad had me worried. So I decided to go to the hospital.
My program coordinator, Viji, recommended a small one near our study center, and I made my way over. It took me awhile to find out where the dermatologist was, but once I did, I was told he would not be in until 5 PM. So I waited for two hours or so, reading and strolling around the busy street nearby. I figured there was no point in forming a line, so I periodically stopped back into the hospital to let the receptionist know I was still there. At around 4:30, I set up camp outside of the office and waited. A little after 5, an elderly good-natured Sikh man walked in with an old-school doctor’s briefcase and a white wrap around his beard. He said something to me in Hindi, and at my blank look, he laughed. I realized this may cause problems. He brought me into his office and slammed the door on a half-dozen indignant Indians who had suddenly appeared at his arrival. He sat me and down cracked a few more jokes in Hindi, each time laughing when I didn’t understand.
I spoke to him in very slow, broken English, hoping he would understand. “I have mole,” I said, pointing to my forehead. He nodded. I repeated: “I have mole.” He continued to nod, so I added, “I don’t want mole.” He looked surprised, then stood up and looked at my forehead. He slowly pointed to the blemishes on my forehead that come from not washing one’s hair every single day (we don’t always have water), and at each one would ask, “This?” I was shocked that he thought pimples were moles, and then physically put his finger on the mole. “This!” I said. He looked at it awhile, then sat back and said, “So?” I explained to him that I didn’t want the damn thing on my forehead. He then gave me some prescriptions, three different creams, and told me to come back in two weeks, seeing as I was living in Delhi.
I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to pay him for a visit, so I asked how much I owed. He asked where I was from. I said America (no one knows where the United States is), to which the doctor replied, “Very rich country! You can afford to pay me 500 rupees!” and he laughed. I stared at him unsure whether he was serious. The doctor stopped laughing and simply looked at me. An awkward silence ensued. I paid him the money and walked to the pharmacy.
When I reached the pharmacy, I gave them the prescriptions. There were about four pharmacists behind one tiny counter. Many Indian jobs seem to include a surplus of workers, so that when work arises, the workers all look at each other and decide who has to get up and do something. The unlucky pharmacist took my prescription. Then he raised an eyebrow and showed it to the other pharmacists, who all laughed. I decided that moles were not common things to remove in India. I suddenly felt very self-conscious of my mole and even wanted to rip it off. Then the pharmacist proceeded to tell me that they did not have any of these creams, nor did they know where to get them. I muttered to myself and walked out, deciding I would return to the doctor in a week and have him burn the thing off.
A week later, I returned to the office, only an hour early this time, and waited until the doctor returned at 5. This time, I had nothing to read, and so I simply watched the people in the waiting room secretly. Directly in front of me, facing away, was an elderly Indian man in a wheel chair, his toffee-colored head balding and smooth except for a few grey bristles. He had large fat ears that dropped down from the sides of his head, and he wore a long white curta. When he was left alone by his aides, he slowly began to push with his feet, ever so slowly, so that his wheelchair would nudge backward in very tiny increments in my direction. I could not help but watch his progress, and felt I had ever right to. After all, given his trajectory, he would eventually end up directly in front of my seat, with both of us facing the same direction. His aides returned and asked him some questions as though he were a child. The old man merely groaned in loud, cookie monster-esque growls. I imagined that he did not move his mouth as he made this curious noise. I expected his eyes were wild and wide. His aides left and he continued his journey, creeping closer and closer. I could have reached out and touched him. He was about to roll over my foot, and I could only imagine the earth-shattering growl he would give at the obstruction of his path. I wondered if he would have the strength to turn around and growl. Then, his aides finally returned and whisked him to the seat next to me. His eyes, which were wide and wild, stared off into space.
The doctor was surprised to see me, and asked why I didn’t use the medication. When I told him they didn’t have he looked confused, so I simply told pointed at the mole and said, “Burn off.” He agreed and led me out of the office and into a clinic that read “Emergency Room.” There were operating beds all over the room. The doctor explained to the nurses why I was there, and they all looked confused once more. I was supremely embarrassed, and almost wanted to call the whole thing off. But the Sikh doctor explained something to the nurses and then turned to leave. Before I could say anything, I was left alone in the Emergency Room, with only a few stationary nurses for company. They all seemed to be watching me. Suddenly, one moved out of the corner of my eye, and before I could protest, she had swabbed my arm with an alcoholic cotton ball and stuck me with a needle. She did not speak English, so I was unaware of the identity of the mystery needle with which she had stuck me. She simply pointed outside of the room, so I left and sat in a chair outside. Now I could not leave, because for all I knew, they had the only antidote for the poison I had just been given, and it would probably cost me another 500 rupees.
After about a half hour of waiting, I was awakened by a tap on the shoulder from the nurse. I had slipped into a kind of muddled daze, and was less curious as to why they had administered the needle to me, and more curious as to where I could get more. But I stumbled after the nurse and into a small operating room. Before I really accepted my surroundings, I was told to lie on an operating table. Suddenly I was terrified. Had I explained something incorrectly? Was I about to be lobotomized? The Sikh doctor returned, and much to my dismay, he laughed when he saw me. I wanted to lunge up and sock him. But he was too quick, and laid a heavy green mat on top of my head, which had a hole in it that was placed over my mole. He gave me another shot, much more painful than the first. This time, it was in the head, and I quickly went numb. My eyes were wide and terrified, like the old man in the white curta. I probably growled, too. Then I heard an electric buzzing, and I felt a kind of warm sensation on my head. Then I felt digging. Then, after a minute or so, it was over. The doctor directed me to the payment station. This time, I received a bill, paid it, and then walked out of the office, still a little confused.
When I removed the bandage a few days later, the mole was gone. There wasn’t even a mark.
I’m working right now on figuring out a way to get pictures up. Not of my forehead; of India. I’ll try to get a Flickr thing up in the next few days.
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