Friday, December 27, 2013

the boy i used to know

The very first time I fell in love, it was with a boy who had leukemia. Leukemia, the fancy word for blood cancer.

I can't pin down the exact date now, but I think I met him 3 months after his treatment had completed. Or maybe it was a year later. The details of this are so hazy now, I can't really say. All of this happened more than 10 years ago.

The day we had our first conversation, it felt like pins and magnets.

It was electric, it was beautiful, and first love is so naive and innocent and powerful and heady.

We lived in different cities, it was the age of the internet, and we would only meet face to face a whole 2 years later.

He called me his angel, one he met after surviving a really rough time of his life. He called me his diamond, one he found amongst littered stones.

Eventually, our lives brought us together in the same city. We shared bike rides, walks on the beach, pizzas, dosas, popcorn, and arguments.

So many arguments.

I felt my life was like a movie. I thought nothing could stop us. I thought it would work out, no matter what.

But you know that it didn't; these things rarely do and that's just the way the universe works. And I am glad for it.

We did try to stay in touch even after it was over. The rare phone call or email or facebook inbox message did exist. Sporadic though it was, we tried and even though neither of us wanted the friendship anymore, I often got the feeling I was sitting next to him in a classroom, and it was just a matter of leaning over and exchanging notes on our lives.

I often got this feeling. I don't any more.

He's married, he lives in a different country and we no longer have each others' numbers.

I remember thinking that the only reason for me to contact him was if I felt I was having a life experience which only he would understand.

If there is someone in this world who understands the emotions with chemotherapy, I think it is him. If there is someone in this world who can talk to me about life after chemotherapy, it is obviously him.

And the odd thing is, I have no desire to re-connect. I thought I would. But I don't.

I guess that's life. You love, you get hurt. And then you just move on. Even if you fell in love over the internet with a boy who had cancer, eventually met face to face and kissed in the rain. Even if you spent many years volunteering at a cancer NGO because of him, even if you always donated way beyond your means to cancer charities because of him, even if now, several years later, you've seen cancer up close and you finally understand it. Even then. It is possible to move on.   

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

government aunties

They strictly travel as a pair or in a pack. Never does this type of species travel alone. There is no such thing as a government aunty. However, there is definitely such a thing as government aunties.

Government aunties are found on the Delhi Metro. Between the set of them, government aunties carry at least 4 plastic bags in addition to their individual handbags.

If government aunties happen to find a place to sit, it is against the order of their species to allow only one of their kind to sit. Either they must all squeeze in to the same space, regardless of how much is available, or they must all egg on one another to occupy the space and then scowl at the one non-government aunty person who finally dares to sit down after watching their politeness match.

If seated, government aunties like to eat their lunch or do their knitting.

Government aunties strictly wear salwar kameez. It is against the order of their species to wear any other type of clothing. If it is winter, government aunties strictly wear woolen monkey caps. The colour of the cap can be black, brown, maroon or on a particularly wild day, dark green. It is against the order of their species to wear any other coloured woolen monkey cap.

Government aunties always board or de-board the metro from Patel Chowk, Central Secretariat or Udyog Bhawan stations.

Government aunties talk about the sun. If it is summer, they discuss how not to sit under the sun. If it is winter they will talk about how to sit under the sun.

If it is raining then I suppose they run out of conversation. Or maybe the metro runs out of its supply of government aunties during the rains. Have you ever met a group of government aunties inside the metro during rainy weather? Neither have I.

Do you belong to a group of government aunties? Would you like to tell us more?

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

cancer people

Today at the chemotherapy day care centre the youngest patient was 7 years old. He has leukemia. He was quiet and shy and smiled at all the nurses. But he didn't say a word. He fell asleep during the chemotherapy. It must be hard to be so young and spend your winter vacations feeling tired and sick. It must be hard to sit still in hospital for hours at a stretch, doing chemotherapy while your friends run and play.

He came with his father. His father kept quiet and sat opposite him and stared at him the whole time. He didn't say a word either.

Father and son spent 5 hours today, sitting across from each other, not saying a word.

But what is there to say? Chemotherapy teaches you that words can be empty. When the silence is filled with so much meaning then there is no need for words.


Each patient at the chemotherapy day care brings at least one other person along with them. At least one. At the hospital we go to, there is no outer limit on the number of people a patient can bring along to keep them company on their chemotherapy days.

Patients themselves are silent creatures. Most are too tired to be noisy. 

But the noise levels escalate.

One boy who had come to keep an eye on his father declared within 5 minutes of entering the day care center, "The noise in this place is like the sound of drums. My ear drums are beating drums."


The bravest woman I saw today had breast cancer 7 years ago. Now the cancer has resurfaced, and this time it is growing on her kidney. This time, because the cancer is on her kidney, the oncologist has refused to do a surgery. She needs to be treated with chemotherapy alone.

Her daughter said they do not know yet whether she can be treated successfully or not. The doctors haven't told them anything yet. This time around, for the cancer on her kidney, she has had 15 chemotherapy cycles so far.

Chemotherapy is hard. You have to watch someone you love doing it know exactly how hard it can be. I've seen 3 cycles so far and I can tell you it definitely doesn't get better with practice.

Her daughter is my age. She was calm and composed and matter of fact as she talked about her mother.


I know exactly what that calmness feels like. I know exactly how much effort it takes to treat the fact of death like a fact of life.

But I have no idea what this girl told herself this time around, 7 years later and with no words of hope by the doctors.

No words of hope except the words you speak to yourself inside your mind. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Elvis & Alice

When I lived in Chennai, I used autos a lot and a place I needed to go to a lot was ELLIS Road. ELLIS. ELLIS. ELLIS. 

Anand, who took a special interest in hailing my autos for me, INSISTED on telling the auto driver that I had to travel to ELVIS Road.

ELVIS. Like the singer.

Not ELLIS. (Ellis, like the road).

I tried many times to correct him but failed, and ultimately gave up.

Then suddenly, a few months back, I remembered he used to call Ellis Road ELVIS Road. Why did I suddenly remember this? Because I'm simply that awesome.

I said to him, "You used to always say Elvis Road instead of Ellis Road."

He said, "Yes. Because that SHOULD have been its correct name. I mean, atleast everyone knows Elvis. But Ellis? Who the fuck is Ellis? And anyway, it's Alice.  Who the fuck is Alice. Not Ellis."

Friday, December 20, 2013

French kiss

Yesterday I was at a cafe by myself when a man came and sat next to me.

Our eyes caught each other, I smiled, he smiled, we talked. He was French. No, it didn't end in a kiss.

It was broad daylight, this was an outdoor cafe, and in any case, my life is rarely that exciting.

A conversation with a complete stranger. Male stranger.

I wouldn't have had it with him if he was Indian.

If he was Indian and he smiled at me, and tried to talk to me,  I may even have left my meal halfway, paid the bill and walked away.

But maybe if he was Indian but very old and doddering and his eyes caught mine, and he smiled at me and started a conversation, I would have responded.


Men and their reputations.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

side effects of chemotherapy

Disclaimer: These are my observations as a lay person. For a trained medical opinion, please consult an oncologist. 

On the day of the chemotherapy itself, you are likely to feel nothing.

24 hours after your chemotherapy, you will need an injection to boost the count of your white blood cells. This is because a side effect of chemotherapy is that it reduces your white blood cell count. White blood cells are important because they help your body fight infections. If you are under chemotherapy, the susceptibility of your body to infections increases.

Chemotherapy kills the cancer cells but it also kills the normal cells. You may feel very weak as your heamoglobin levels tend to fall. You will be required to take blood tests often throughout the course of your treatment and if your doctor feels your heamoglobin level is dangerously low then you may need a blood transfusion. 

You will experience hair loss but how quickly it sets in or the rate at which it falls differs from patient to patient. Some people lose all their hair within the first week - 10 days, others lose theirs gradually, over the course of their chemotherapy sessions.

You may have body pain, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, diarrhea, constipation or general weakness. The week immediately after your chemotherapy session is the hardest. If you have been advised to undergo chemotherapy on a weekly basis then you may feel like you are constantly having to deal with its side effects. However, if your chemotherapy takes place with longer time gaps between the sessions then you may even feel fit or normal after your spell of weakness. 

Depending on how strong you feel, you can drive, go out to work, meet friends or go to a party.

Everything is possible because anything can happen at anytime.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Disclaimer: These are my observations as a lay person. For a scientific explanation on chemotherapy, please consult an oncologist.

Chemotherapy is not radiation. The 2 are different and you shouldn't get confused by the movies.

Chemotherapy can be given as oral tablets, as an instant injection or through a slow drip.

The chemotherapy given as a drip is the most common and also the one that I have closely observed.

You check into the hospital with your prescription. When you check in, they begin preparing your chemotherapy drugs. Preparation has to be done in a sterile environment and the drugs must be used immediately and not stored.  This is why they will begin preparing your drugs only once you have checked in. It can take anywhere between 45 minutes to 2 hours for the lab to prepare the drugs that you need.

Dosage and types of drugs are different for each patient. There are more than 50 different types of chemotherapy drugs. So once you are checked in, the lab prepares the drugs for you in the exact concentration and dosage as has been prescribed by your doctor.

Once the chemotherapy drugs are ready, they are administered to you via a drip. You can spend anywhere between 5 - 8 hours in the hospital while you are on the drip. You can lie down or sit up. You can read, eat, watch TV or sleep. You can even ask the nurse to disconnect your drip if you need to take a bathroom break.

You will most likely feel nothing. Side effects only kick in over the next few days.

Depending on the dosage prescribed to you, you may need one or more drips. When they have finished giving you all your chemotherapy drips, they will give you a final saline drip.

Once they have finished giving you the saline drip, you can leave the hospital. Your chemotherapy session is over. Each session is called a "cycle". The frequency of your chemotherapy cycles are decided by your doctor.