When I get onto Skype with Scott he tells me that Barack Obama is getting ready to speak. I turn on the BBC World News. They’re going to show the speech live. Scott hangs up so he can go watch. I stay in my room a little longer than usual absorbed in the speech.
Downstairs at breakfast I tell Marie I’ve just watched Barack Obama accept the nomination. She asks me if I think he can win. “There are a lot of rednecks,” she says. I’m afraid, I tell her, that the general masses of individuals might be afraid to vote for a black man for president. There are still rumors abounding that he’s a Muslim. When this is the fear, John McCain doesn’t even have to campaign. He just has to be white and Christian. Still, the speech was rousing. It was a historic moment and I am excited to have been able to watch it live.
Pachu serves me the icky red mango for breakfast, although I’m getting used to it. It seems mango season is still on, at least for the red kind, at least for the time being.
At work, I want to talk to people about the speech. What did you think? What were your favorite parts? I liked the line about the ownership society. The Republicans tell you you’re on your own. That was good. I know if I were at home I could hash over all these points with my coworkers, but here it’s just another morning. No one else tuned into the speech. My excitement is mine alone.
I once again ask Shabnum if she’ll make a doctor’s appointment for me. My eyes have been red and stinging for the past five days, and today was the worst of all. I have a suspicion that the situation is connected to the bubonic flu I’m still getting over, since it seems to have arisen at around the same time. I recall writing an email to a friend about how I looked like a meth addict while I was at my sickest, with sunken, red eyes. Still, I figure it’s safer to get it checked out rather than let it go, especially since it doesn’t seem to be getting better on its own.
Shabnum asks if I have a doctor in South Delhi. She’s concerned that the doctors at this hospital aren’t always the best. But it’s so close to work and so convenient. I tell her not to worry. If I think the doctor is no good, I can always make another appointment in my neighborhood later.
The subject of the movie comes up. Amar doesn’t like the singing and dancing, he says, as he always does when the subject of movies comes up. “Our heroes are stronger than yours,” he tells me, then describes a few of the most ridiculous Bollywood moments he can muster. “One guy had to stop a bullet, so he held out his hand like this,” he illustrates. “And then another time there were two bad guys and only one bullet left, so the guy takes out his knife and cuts the bullet in half, then shoots them both.” There is a healthy sense of the absurd in Bollywood.
Three thirty rolls around and it’s time for me to run across the street to my appointment. This time there is no fear and no worry about being alone. This time the visit is totally routine. Palminder knows how to find the place, and, at the front desk, they find my name, Vicki Krajeuuski, in their system in seconds flat.
“I have a four o’clock appointment with Dr. Rakesh Gupta,” I tell the young woman at the front desk.
“Will you be paying by cash?” she asks me. I nod yes. “Two hundred rupees,” she says.
Two hundred rupees? This is half the price of the normal doctor. I’m seeing an ophthalmologist today. I expected the cost to be the same or possibly even double. Instead, I get a half price sale. My visit will be approximately four dollars.
She gives me the room number: 2228. This is right next door to the doctor I saw for my upper respiratory infection. He was in room 2229. I walk right past the security guards at the stairs and to the reception area on the second floor. As I wait, I notice that each office in the small area has a very different specialty. The guy I saw was internal medicine. The office next to his is the eye doctor’s, and, on the other side is a door labeled, “Dr. Arun Garg, consultant, neurology.” There are no such things as departments here. I’m used to the University of Iowa Hospital where neurology would be a ten minute walk or a half an hour drive from the internal medicine specialist. But this is a small place.
I think this must be something of the reason that Shabnum suggested I try a different doctor, but I figure, “How bad can it be?” If I don’t like what the guy tells me, I’m only out four dollars and a half hour of my time.
The doctor walks past me and into room 2228 carrying a black leather medicine bag. Shortly thereafter he pops his head out of the room and calls me in. He looks at my eyes, shining lights into them and pulling at the lids. He tells me what I thought was the case: that the irritation is due to the illness that I have, and it should clear up when my cough abates. The bad news is that he says I should keep wearing my glasses until this time. So between my bad haircut and and my glasses, I look like Ugly Betty. The only things I’m missing are the braces. Oh well. At least it’s a step up from my previous incarnation as a meth addict. Dr. Gupta wants to see me back at 4 p.m. on Monday. I tell him that’s no problem.
He gives me a prescription for eyedrops: one to keep my eyes moist and the other an antibiotic just in case there’s a bacterial infection going on. I get the prescription filled downstairs for sixty rupees (just over a dollar), and I’m out the door in less than half an hour.
On the way back to the office, I look at the box of eyedrops. It’s labeled: “FMLT – Tobramycin Sulfate.” Shit. I’m allergic to sulfa drugs. I think I have two options. I could just not use the drops and see if my eyes clear up by themselves, or I could go back and ask for a different prescription. I tell Palminder, “We have to go back.”
He turns the car around and has me back at the hospital in just a few minutes. I climb the stairs and knock at the door of 2228. Dr. Gupta tells me I don’t have anything to worry about, that lots of antibiotics have a sulfate in them. I press him. “Are you sure?”
He pauses. “Okay, I will just take the antibiotic out. This way, you can be sure. I will just write it for FML, no ‘T.’” He writes me a new prescription which I also get filled. I’m still back at the office in less than an hour from the time I left.
Back at my desk, I do a little research. I’m curious now as to whether the doctor is right and I can take the antibiotic drops. I’d rather use them if they’re safe, just to be sure I’m treating any possible infection in my eyes. I want to get back to wearing my contacts sooner rather than later because, although my glasses complete my Ugly Betty mystique, it really irritates me to have something sitting on my face. I’m very unused to them.
After some poking around, I find this on a message board:
Sulfa is short for sulfamethoxazole. Some people are allergic to sulfa
antibiotics such as sulfamethoxazole, which is found in the combination
antibiotics Bactrim and Septra. Sulfate, also spelled sulphate, is a chemical
term that identifies specific salts containing sulfur. Sulfur is a mineral
that's found naturally in animal protein (including meat, poultry, fish and
eggs), dried beans and other vegetables. Sulfa antibiotics don't contain
So it is safe. I feel kind of bad that I doubted the doctor, but, hey, I didn’t want blisters on my eyeballs on top of everything else I’ve had to deal with. I open up the container of drops only to find that they are completely sealed. I’ll need a needle or a pair of scissors to pierce the end of the dropper before I can take my first dose.
After work, I stop by Defence Colony to get my cell phone charger. We make a quick pit stop in the market to buy some two-liter bottles of soda, then Palminder drives me off to Julianne’s for movie night.
Palminder has a bit of a challenge finding the place, and when we finally pull up at what appears to be the address, it looks completely unfamiliar. There is a name plaque that says “Freedom Fighter” in black marble on the front of the gate. Was that always there, or have we found the wrong place entirely? I make Palminder wait in the car while I knock on the door.
After a few seconds, I hear Julianne’s perky voice. It is the right place. I guess I just didn’t notice the freedom fighter plaque before. I get my soda from the car and give Palminder his tip. I tell him I’ll call him tomorrow, and he says, “Goodnight madam.”
Inside, we look at Julianne’s movie collection. She has a bunch of Hindi films with English subtitles. It’s hard to pick which one to watch. Susie sends a text message. We shouldn’t wait for her to order food. She’ll be over with her friend Gloria in just a bit. We order two pizzas from Pizza Hut: one spicy veg, one chicken Hawaiian.
Julianne’s roommate just got back from Hong Kong. She has friends over, one of whom is just getting over something that sounds very familiar: she was shaking with cold when the air wasn’t even on. They eat Chinese noodles at the kitchen table and talk quietly.
Susie arrives before the pizza does. She is wearing the cutest skirt with big flower appliqués on it. She got it at Sarojini Market. I think I’ll have to go there sometime.
Her friend, Gloria, from Texas, is staying with her for the immediate future. She has small eyes and a tight ponytail and speaks so quietly she almost makes no sound at all. She has just been evacuated because of the flooding in Bihar, where she has been working as a nurse for a year and a half. We ask what kinds of cases she sees. “Mostly childbirth,” she says, then adds, “Snake bites. A lot of snake bites… tuberculosis…”
Childbirth, snake bites and tuberculosis. She says she can’t wait to get back. I am in wonderment.
We decide to watch Main Hoon Na. It means something like, “I am here.” It’s a complicated movie, but then, when you have three hours to develop your storyline and characters, you can get as complicated as you like.
There is going to be a prisoner exchange between India and Pakistan, but a rebel in India wants to put a stop to it. He threatens to harm the head of the military’s daughter, who is in school at Darjeeling (a film location that looks absolutely beautiful). “I have to go there!” Susie exclaims when she sees the white peaks in the background.
The hero of the film is sent to the school to go undercover and protect the military head’s daughter. While he is at the school, he also tries to make amends with his estranged mother and half brother, but they don’t know who he is. You see, he is a bastard child and his father left his mother and half brother to raise him. His father dies in the beginning of the movie and it’s his dying wish for the hero to unite the family. I told you it was complicated.
The best part of the whole film, hands down, is a high action chase sequence in which the hero chases an SUV full of bad guys while driving a bicycle rickshaw that starts on fire. There are a few shots reminiscent of ET when the rickshaw jumps through the sky in slow motion.
Runners up to this scene are the slow motion fights in which the hero flys and, yes, dodges bullets much like the Matrix; and, of course, the big dance numbers in which the hero falls in love with the sexy new chemistry teacher at the school. The way in which the heroine is lit and the fans blow her hair every time she appears on camera seems to show that the film makers are wise to the cheese they are purveying. There is a nice sense of comedy in the storyline, as well as action and drama.
Despite, or perhaps because of, its cheesiness, I am completely drawn into the movie. Like most things Indian, it is a project, an effort. You don’t just sit lightly down to a movie. You need to invest three hours of your time. Just like you don’t just take a little trip to the mountains. You need to be ready to sit on a bus for a day. A whole day, if need be.
Time here stretches on. You need a lot of it. But I have a lot of it right now, so it suits me.
I stay overnight at Julianne’s because it would be too late to go home by myself once the movie is through.
She is the sweetest host, digging out clean sheets and pajamas and even an alarm clock so I don’t miss my Skype date with Scott in the morning.
One more day in India done.