[16/02, 13:22] O: There is a family of three seated opposite me at the hospital. My guess is they’re from Rajasthan. Their features indicate tribal origins, or that they’re from the northern borders, or both. I can tell they’re upper caste from the woman’s ghoonghat and jewellery. If nothing, their affluence is evident in that they’re waiting for treatment here at Lilavati. The little girl looks at me from behind a fort of suitcases. We are playing a game with our eyes. I wonder why they’re here
[16/02, 13:34] O: Figured it out. The woman is sick.
[16/02, 15:03] O: Sorry for doing ethnography at you. It is better suited in a notebook.
Sometimes I have an overpowering urge to drop everything – work, ambition, friendship – to spend the days with ma. Nothing makes me feel more at ease. Disease may be eating at her, but at least we have the money to contemplate. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Directive Principles of State Policy stipulate the right to private property. It is the best enforced right. Those that have it and those that don’t – both can attest to this. I feel an overpowering urge to float in this meditative vacuum, secured by an especially cogent health insurance.
The outside circumstances would be the same even if we didn’t have this cash. The right to property would reign supreme, but we would enjoy no part of its (uncertain) glory. Food, medicine, work would be much harder to procure. My mother’s flesh would fall to the earth as if returning to it. She would emanate the stench and fear of a leper. The rest of us would be busy with work – families must continue, the community must be pleased, careers must be made; would we find time for sentimentality? If disease has hardened me now, I’d have turned into stone in those circumstances. Most people are forced into a stony existence. I am the anomaly.
Baba cracked open an egg this morning:
an unexpected encounter
with an agglomeration of red blood cells.
He will remember today
as the day he killed a baby.
Ma has a tumour in the pancreas and lungs.
You would not be able to tell from appearance –
like all secrets, it festers.
Baba takes care of her and her secrets
as if they were babies.
Human beings accumulate events, encounters, people, art, history. All that stimulates, imprints. Dreams imprint. To have a consciousness is to be imprinted by things great and small. Of course, one can will and be willing. To will is to be attentive. To will is to stop dwelling on what imprints and move beyond. The will is the bold voice that wields the world – its sole objective is to mould it per our imagination. It may not be free, but it is freeing; or perhaps it gives us a momentary illusion of agency. The world has been built by an unending complex of wills – a collective act of affirming faith, a refusal to submit to the odds.
As is characteristic of the nuclear family, home is claustrophobic. Living here is getting by in a constant state of suffocation. Nobody wants to live undemocratically. I politically, philosophically, and totally deny the terms of such citizenship. I am an unwilling colony, struggling to devise a timeline and diplomatic strategy for independence. Of course, the colonial hangover does linger, one might say it gives me the eyes to reinterpret my own history. Its categories of thought scaffold my own and repulse me to the core.
I know what I’m doing in these disparate monographs. Only one with my consciousness can read such ramblings for what they do not contain. I see I am yet unprepared to process the imprint of illness. The wound is fresh and deepening; probing might cause additional and frankly, unnecessary trauma. It might be better, at this point, to ride it wordlessly – as an act of will, if that’s what it takes.
Ma’s PET scan results came yesterday. In the yellow lamp light of the living room, the scene replays: the children are seated and told the cancer is back, they start to cry, and Baba says to relax.
I wonder how she is so calm.
Oorna is a writer and researcher based in Mumbai.