Yesterday I spent a good part of the day driving around in circles –- although that is difficult in Chennai, because there are so many cul-de-sacs culs-de-sac dead ends – trying to get a few things done, with little success. Although I saw a rare rainbow in the east, where rain was falling, wasted, into the Bay of Bengal.
Just as I got home the power went off, and stayed off for four hours, and we were waiting for some important calls, and in the middle of that the generator tripped, and we got it back, but by then we were pretty frazzled and irritable. And then around midnight it went dark again, and this time we felt it was out for the night. So I spread a couple of quilts (one block-printed Rajasthani razai and one red-and-white quilt, patched by me, but hand-quilted in a beautiful medallion design by my tailor’s sister-in-law and some of her friends in Lahore) on the drawing room carpet, because that was the coolest room in the house, and we lay down to sleep there. But after an hour the power came back again, and we were able to repair to the bedchamber.
The day before yesterday, part of the nearby slum where Lakshmi lives burned down. She said there was some dispute, and the fire was set, but it must be hard to know. Such fires always consume hundreds of huts, because they’re made of thatch and paper and such. She was okay, because she has a cement hut, and she was on the far side of the slum from where the fire was, but the electricity lines were all burnt, so maybe that had something to do with our blackout.
Mary came back from one of the many visits she’s been making to various doctors lately. She’s been suffering a lot from arthritis in both knees, but she doesn’t want to accept that she may have to put up with it. So she goes from one doctor to another. Many of the doctors who serve the poor seem careless and ignorant – though that may be unfair. (For the rest of us, Chennai is a regional medical center: people come here from other parts of India and even from neighbouring countries for certain kinds of treatment.) Mary or Lakshmi or Chinnaraj or whoever, will come back from the doctor with a handful of nondescript pills twisted into a newspaper, and no information. If I ask, “What did the doctor say?” the sick person will say something like, “I was afraid to ask, because then he would get angry and say, Go to another doctor if you don’t trust me.”
Mary has had one offer of an injection in her knees which would cost Rs. 1,000 – a lot! – which we guess must be cortisone, but which has to be taken on faith. Someone else gave her some heart medicine. She has been told that she has gotten old (vaayasaayichchu) and that she has to do physical work, and therefore this pain is inevitable and given vitamins and antacids. Three days ago she went for an x-ray, which showed that she has osteo-arthritis. Yesterday she took the x-ray to a doctor, who said that her body was deficient in iron and salt.
Ramesh told her that the only real solution might be knee replacement, which would keep her immobilised for months, and she said, “Yes, I heard about it on the radio. They said it’s very good, but you can’t bend your knees fully.” It’s interesting – the radio is an excellent source of information on all kinds of subjects. She has people who treat her as though she doesn’t deserve to know what’s going on; and then she has the radio. And, of course, Ramesh, who goes through his books, deciphering what each tablet really is, and explaining what’s really going on.
Lakshmi is worried because her sister is in the hospital, awaiting delivery of a child. But it’s not coming. She’s overweight, and her body has swelled up with liquid, and her blood pressure is high. The doctors told her she had too much salt in her body.
So it goes. And yet so it goes on -- babies do get born, and people manage their pain.
But really, it was one of those days, for everyone in the house.
Later: As we were having breakfast, one of Lakshmi's relatives called to say that her sister required emergency surgery. She took Rs. 1000 from me -- when these crises happen, money is collected from whoever can give -- to help pay the hospital, and tearfully rushed off. For her, today is also going to be one of those days.