By Indu Balachandran Jun. 14, 2018
I’ve noticed that the reveal-all Indian doesn’t need a “How are you?” to launch into a “This is how my body parts are doing” story time. Discussing maladies, mishaps, and malfunctions of bodies in public spaces seems to be many an Indian’s favourite hobby.
“How are you?”
As far as I know, this is a standard international greeting that should invoke generic and harmless responses like “I am fine” or “I’m doing okay, thank you”. Yet this simple question is taken very literally by most acquaintances I meet.
“How are you,” I innocently ask someone at the park and in response I get a stitch-by-stitch account of his latest operation. In a matter of minutes, he ensures that I am familiarised with the frequency of bowel movements on his journey to recovery. It doesn’t help that my pained expression is often mistaken for deep sympathy. This encourages such people to jump into further medical melodrama — often accompanied by graphic hand gestures. Every flinch of mine is seen as a sign of further empathy and I am suitably rewarded with narratives of uncontrollable acid refluxes or nauseating expulsions. Yet my polite upbringing continues to lead me to these hapless encounters.
In fact, I’ve noticed that the reveal-all Indian doesn’t need a “How are you?” to launch into a “This is how my body parts are doing” story time. Discussing maladies, mishaps, and malfunctions of bodies in public spaces seems to be many an Indian’s favourite hobby.
So dedicated are we to this cause that we often resort to combining our two favourite obsessions: money and paranoia. Take my pal Jaggu for instance. He was so convinced that his headaches were a sign of a dreaded illness that he spent most of his waking time running around doing innumerable tests. Concerned about his well-being, I decided to make some enquiries. “So what did the brain scan show finally?” I asked, steeling myself for a barrage of descriptions about the discharge from his eyes. “Nothing!” he declared grumpily. Stifling a laugh, I told him to cheer up with this verdict. “What?! I just spent ₹6000 on these scans! You think I’m happy wasting so much money for nothing?” he replied.
Aah, how could I forget the value-for-money Indians? After all, if we are spending so much on scans and X-rays, there better be a life-threatening disease cropping up. Especially, since it gives us hours of material for conversations ahead. See, that’s the thing about this brand of peculiar Indians: We love oversharing. Be it our food or the diseases wrecking our bodies. It’s almost as if we believe that our bodies will magically heal if we announce their malfunctions to the world from the rooftops.
After all, if we are spending so much on scans and X-rays, there better be a life-threatening disease cropping up.
Recently, I was sitting in the waiting room of a well-known specialist to consult him about my… Okay, I will stop right there. Anyway, while the doctor was testing his patients inside, the receptionist took to testing our patience outside, with no clue about when each of our turns was likely to be called.
But I can’t complain about it being uneventful. While waiting, I was treated to an engrossing report on the defective intestine of the gentleman next to me, regaling his helpless relative with details over the phone. With appropriate facial expressions and great candour, he explained the daily stages of the non-movement of his stools, until I could take it no more and moved to a stool far away.
The reveal-all Indian may be omnipresent, but it is in hospitals that they become entirely unavoidable. Yet I faithfully turn up at the bedside of ailing friends and I am often treated to scintillating post-operative details, anywhere and by everyone. This happened the other day when I unsuspectingly stepped into a hospital lift where a loud family, oblivious to my presence, continued discussing their loved one’s discharge. I’m still not sure if they referred to the discharge emanating from their loved one or that their beloved was being discharged and sent home. One thing is for sure, someone really needs to take another look at these hospital terms.
But I must stop getting so suspicious of every conversation I tend to overhear. Like the two mothers before me in a queue, earnestly chatting about — what seemed to me — low grade fever, as I kept hearing 99.1, 99.4, 99.8 repeated several times.
I tried blocking their voices out before they warmed up to more painful details until it suddenly dawned on me that they weren’t talking about their wards’ fever chart at all but of the percentages in the recent Class 12 board exams.
Indu Balachandran turned to a career in Advertising when it became clear that world markets would collapse if she ever became an economist. She now travels and writes for a living and during flight delays, dreams of doing stand-up comedy some day, at staid Tam Brahm weddings.