Broken Bones to Broken Heart: My Family’s “Thuk Patti” Quick Fix for Everything


Broken Bones to Broken Heart: My Family’s “Thuk Patti” Quick Fix for Everything

Illustration: Akshita Monga

“Thuk Patti” is an urban Indian slang for a temporary solution or a half-assed way out of distress. Literally, it translates to “spit bandage” – from the myth that spitting on a wound will momentarily make it better. It is what “but we can still be friends” is to every teenage break-up or what a Netflix subscription is for a single person on Valentine’s Day. Or any day.

When my father and his two brothers got married and had children, each of these three micro-family units decided it was time to move out of our grandparents’ large home. In India, whether you are 25 or 52 years old, if you abandon your parents’ home, all of society looks at you the way the Catholic church looked at Galileo in the 17th century.

I imagine my dada would have, on this fateful day, in a state of complete shock, announced every parenting effort as an act of martyrdom to my fully-grown dad at his doorstep. “Don’t ever forget that I wiped your poop-stained ass clean that one time in 1961. It wasn’t even my job. Your mother happened to be out buying prunes.” The sons’ departures were grudgingly sanctioned off, but not without a bit of thuk patti: My grandmother (amma) laid down the rule that as make-good, every family would have to come visit her every Sunday.

That’s the thing about thuk patti: It’s not just a temporary fix, it is a spot of amelioration. A dab of spit that takes away only a little bit of the sting from a wound.  

Sweet coconut oil on her ailing back, turmeric on her fingers for knife cuts, or eucalyptus on her temples to destress.

So every Sunday, as a fifth grader, I had to put on my cleanest frock and be dragged out of the house to go see amma and dada for our mandatory social call. As a fifth grader, here are things I’d rather had been doing on a Sunday evening: watch The Jungle Book reruns, make glitter pink hearts around my crush’s name in my geometry workbook, make blank calls to his house to hear his sweet voice say Hello, if you call again we’ll have to inform the police. Or if it was my lucky day – all those three things together. They lived a kilometre or so away from us. And if there was one thing I disliked more than the girl who was lucky enough to be my crush’s neighbour, it was walking. For my father, walking there meant saving ₹13 on a cab ride and thereby notionally contributing to my marriage fund.

Dada would open the door, we’d walk down the long hallway to the living room where amma sat majestically in the middle of a wooden settee right in front of the television, walking stick by her side, eyes glued to some daily soap. My ma and pa would touch her feet, she’d raise her hand just an inch as if her blessings were a “limited stock” sale, scratch the side of her lip, much like Don Corleone, and say to me, “You come to my house, you don’t give me hug?”

This was my cue to run to her, jigsaw fit my head between her head and shoulder, which would instantly fill my nose up with the smell of one or another thuk patti on her body. Sweet coconut oil on her ailing back, turmeric on her fingers for knife cuts, or eucalyptus on her temples to destress.

On one such Sunday, we entered her building through the back entrance, as the front gates were blocked by construction work. My parents had baited me with some chicken lollipop to endure the walk. The street lights were off and the only thing on my mind was to be in front of the TV before 8.30 pm for the annual Filmfare Awards. As we walked past the gates, the spirit of Usain Bolt took over my chubby laziness and I started running toward the house in pitch darkness. And banged my forehead against the sharp, uncovered end of a scaffolding. I mustered every bit of my and said “My lollipop fell down”. And my mother responded, “But you’ve already eaten five, now get up so we can fix it quick.”

The next thing I knew, I had given my Amma a rather bloody hug, was lying on amma’s settee, watching a hallucinating ceiling fan, feeling a bag of frozen peas being pressed against my left eyebrow. My family belted out ingredient names for my wound as if they were spells from Potter land: Aloe Vera Kedavra, Whiskey Episkey, Lavender Leviosa. But the blood simply refused to stop.

My classmates would boast about their fathers – one’s dad was considered cool because he owned a women’s lingerie store, another’s was well-known because he was a second cousin of Suniel Shetty. My father’s talent? He can find and pin down a doctor no matter the place or time. So Pa sat with the landline in his lap, and called his divorced friend whose sister’s neighbour’s son had recently had a head injury – he got him to call his sister, get the doctor’s phone number and like a film neatly edited, I was carried to a doctor’s private clinic, right across the road from amma’s house. Pa was smart enough not only to have found a doctor on a Sunday evening but one that didn’t require a taxi ride.

The doctor, a man with a soft sweet face, arrived in a few minutes, still in his nightclothes. He put on a pair of surgical gloves and looked at my wound. A nurse took me into a separate room from where I could just see the Filmfare magazine’s cover on a side table and the doctor mumbling something to my folks. Madhuri Dixit was on the magazine’s cover sporting a set of bangs with an off-shoulder top. I was certain my father was asking the doctor how expensive would it be to close up my eyebrow, calculating the blow to my marriage fund in rupees per stitch. His jaw would then drop at the proposed number and my mother would softly ask, “Can she just cover it with bangs instead?”

While I was mentally making these plans, the doctor came in to desensitise the injured area on my head, gave me two stitches, and after the almost painless procedure, sent me away with a bottle of iodine and the magazine to keep me smiling. On our way out, he handed rather ceremoniously to my dad, a cheap black-and-white pamphlet that had “Superior Healing: Reiki” printed on one side with a bunch of asterisks and star symbols. My good eyebrow should have started to twitch at the fact that a fully qualified medical professional, dressed in his night suit, actually taught Reiki on the side. Another thuk patti for my family, I should have thought. “Now how would you like to become your family’s own doctor? Think about it and call me.” he said

Giving someone Reiki in the ’90s was just like using a dial-up modem. You focused all your positive energies into one little “Connect” dialog box, pressed it with all your faith while it made an ommmmmm sound, and hoped to god that it would make a connection for a whopping 12 minutes of uninterrupted internet.

We were a family threaded together by illnesses. My mother often had to check my dad’s breathing closely on days I needed his permission for a sleepover. She’d report back, “All passages are clogged this evening, quietly go to your room and cry if you want, but softly.” Between my dad’s sinusitis and psoriasis, mom’s lactose allergies and appendicitis, and my tonsilitis and alopecia – we made sure we visited doctors more regularly than we paid taxes.

My father’s mental math seemed to conclude that spending ₹4,000 on the first three levels of Reiki was indeed wiser than having to maintain a directory of specialists. In a week within his training, we saw my pa starting to make weird circles (known as chakras) on various parts of his body and cupping both his hands over a painful limb to pass on warm energy that would activate some self-healing. By level two he’d learnt how to give Reiki to others. For a family that usually scampered away like squirrels at the mere idea of exchanging “I love you’s” or hugs, it was so refreshing to see my father cupping his hands over my mother’s arm or amma’s knee or my own sniffling nose. Each ailing part with every passing minute would gradually begin to feel perceptibly warm, under his hands – proof that something was changing for sure.

By level three he was taught that energy can be passed on to inanimate objects as well. And thus began my ritual of waking him up prematurely before every Algebra quiz so he could mid-sleep-drooling draw a chakra over my head and cup his powerful hands over not only my brain but also my calculator.

We had found the ultimate thuk patti.

On another regular Sunday, we were all sitting around amma watching the daily soap. My chachi, however, wanted to see something else and asked my father to change the channel. He pressed the remote, but it seemed to be running out of battery. He did what any sensible human would do – hit the remote on all four sides. When that failed, my chachi looked over her spectacles and said to pa, “Your daughter claims that you can make anything work with your Reiki, why not the remote then.”

I eyed my dad to show her how it’s done. He drew the familiar chakra and I quickly began to say three Hail Mary’s under my breath. My father closed his hands around the cellophane-wrapped remote control, and shut his eyes. I was ready to go on to Hail Mary number four, and just then my father clicked a button, the channel switched and we saw Madhuri Dixit swinging her hips and dancing to a song about the many joys of off-season rains.

Today, after 20 years, I am more than 13,000 kilometres away from my family, as amma is being attached to life support in the same house. I choose to walk through the park over riding the bus, and on my way, I Skype with my father and ask him smilingly, why don’t you give her a little Reiki. A little thuk patti goes a long way. He claims that he’s long forgotten all of it. I cup my hand and hover it over my heart so he can see it through his phone screen and tell him: “Just like that”.

The connection breaks off. But I can still feel something warm slowly building inside of me.