Behind the Curtains

A great read! Getting into the thought process of a CSW..

Epiphany in the Cacophony

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Saroja Madam rang the bell earlier than usual that evening. I pushed my copy of Femina under the pillow and straightened out my hair. Amla rushed in with our make up. “Only 15 minutes!” she whispered, smearing the talcum powder over her face. I grabbed the powder box and did the same. Saroja madam always told us “if you don’t have time for makeup, apply powder. If they wanted dark girls, they’d go to the other brothels on the street.”

Friday nights were always busy. But today seemed to be more rushed than usual. I peeked out of my window to see if I recognised anyone. I couldn’t tell. These men like to keep their faces down when they queue up outside. Most of them recognise each other. Especially the taxi drivers and rickshawallas. But they never speak. Keeping their eyes glued to their mobile phones until one of us…

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Beautiful Bhutan-II

Day 4:

The day started in Thimpu with a visit to the renowned Arts school, which offers a 5 and a half year degree course in traditional Bhutanese art. The sheer dedication, sincerity and science that went into the art being churned out at the school served as an eye-opener. It’s amazing how the Bhutanese have managed to preserve their traditions and culture in the modern world. The Arts school embodied everything that the country stood for: Happiness over Progress, Culture over Modernisation.

The drive back to Paro had a few stopovers, thanks again to the repair work being carried out on the roads. This time around, it allowed us to pluck some apples (albeit illegally) from the expansive apple orchards in the valley. The taste of apples plucked freshly from the tress was refreshingly different from the chemically treated ones available in the market.

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The view from the Resort

Rema resort in Paro was our residence for the next three nights. Perched on the top of a small hill, the resort overlooked the Paro Chu (the river), the riverbank, the valley and the mountains beyond. The silence in the resort was drowned out by the roaring waters of the Paro Chu and the sweet chirpy sounds of birds at its bank. We fell in love with the place instantly.

The day was spent lazying around, soaking in the sights and sounds around the resort and honing our skills at Archery, the national sport and Bhutan’s favourite pastime. The resort had its own shooting range where we practiced all evening without much success.

Day 5:

This was the day of reckoning! The day we had to climb upto the Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s nest) after being dropped off by the vehicle to the starting point. The climb wasn’t going to be an easy one. A steep uphill climb, with slopes ranging between 45-70 degrees, the sun shining down on our heads and the roads strewn with stones and dust. The only good news was that it was only a five kilometre distance.

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The Taktsang Monastery

The Taktsang monastery was a work of art. Perched on the side of the mountain, some distance from its top, it was an architectural marvel. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), the one credited for introducing Buddhism in Bhutan, flew into the cave, where the monastery lies, on the back of a tigress. Subsequently, a monastery was built at the location in his honour.

The end of the climb did not lead us to the monastery, but to a flight of atleast a thousand steps, winding around the sides of the mountain and leading to the monastery. The steps served as a great vantage point for photographs. Waterfalls adorned the way to the monastery, providing us with fresh water to keep us fresh for the journey that followed.

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A Detour to reach the top!

The monastery itself was splendid. Not often in my life had something taken my breath away, as the monastery had. The layout was not unlike the other monastery’s, but this one was grander. Our adventurous sides were also satiated with an almost chimney climb to the original site of the Tiger’s nest in the cave, one which overlooked most of the city. (No photographs of that as cameras weren’t allowed inside)

The sun was setting as we climbed down the hill to the parking lot. Taking a detour, we explored the other sites on the mountains, including the residence of the Monks.

Tired, yet satisfied, we went back to the resort for a much deserved rest. The night was spent along the river bank, with great conversations and even better alcohol.

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The Bank and the Mighty River!

Day 6

The penultimate day in Bhutan was essentially a day to wind down. Visits to the museum and yet another dzong was followed by lunch at the Marketplace and some shopping. Managing to reach the resort before sunset, we tried our luck at Archery again. This time around we were more successful, with two of us hitting the target.

The night was spent reliving the trip and dreading to go back to the routine of our day to day lives.

Day 7:

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View from the Flight- The Everest!

 

The flight back to Mumbai was right on time and as it took off it gave us glimpses of some of the majestic peaks of the Himalayan ranges, Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and Makalu, some of the tallest peaks in the world.

We returned to Mumbai with a heavy heart, but happy memories of the Land of the Thunder Dragon!

Beautiful Bhutan- I

A trip outside my comfort zone was just what I needed after a gruelling 3 years spent learning the art of operating upon the the human body. And what better place to choose than Bhutan, the land of the Thunder Dragon.

The preliminaries were minimal. Either a passport or an Election ID were required for travel to and from Bhutan. An authorised agent of the Ministry of Tourism of Bhutan planned the entire trip for us.

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The Airport at Paro

To start with, there was only one airline that flew in and out of Bhutan, i.e Druk Air, the national airline, which had flights operating from the Mumbai Airport only twice a week. The Airbus A319 transported us across the Indian sub-continent to the land of one of its closest allies. A beautiful view of some of the tallest mountains in Bhutan presented itself to us as we landed at the airport in Paro, which was made up of two small multi-storied buildings with an airstrip right in front of them. The airstrip was located in a small opening between two mountains, with the pilot banking the aircraft while landing, to avoid a potential disaster of crashing into the mountains. This was one of the most picturesque airports in the world.

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Druk Air- The Royal Bhutan Airlines

A private vehicle with a driver-cum-tourist guide awaited us at the airport to drive us to Thimpu, which was a pleasant two hour journey from the airport.

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One wrong turn too many!

Wrong turns and poor road sense of the chauffeur led us to a beautiful building, set against a tall mountain with a thick lush green cover and an unparalleled view of the lake, which was supposedly the hotel we were booked at. On further probing, we realised that the hotel had been shifted out and the building was now a residential one. While waiting for the chauffeur to confirm the details, we hit it  off with a beautiful Bhutanese girl, who looked like she had just crossed her teenage years. After providing us with some guidance she spoke fondly of the time she spent in India and her love for almost everything Indian. After exchanging numbers and promises to meet up again we set out on our way.

The hotel room awaited us travel weary guests to check, as the first day in the capital city was spent just soaking in the sights and sounds of the market place.

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Thimpu Sunrise

Day 2:

An early day and a good morning walk, where we experienced the dawning of sunlight, was followed by a car ride to a hilltop which housed the tallest statue of Lord Buddha in the world. Standing at a commanding height of 169 ft, the statue overlooks the entire city of Thimpu. The workmanship and the sheer audacity to build something of this magnitude left us awestruck.

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The tallest Buddha statue in the World!

The Kuenselphodrang Nature park lying adjacent to the Buddha point was the next place we visited. A beautiful nature trail with an unparalleled view of the city and canopies at strategic areas, which served as a resting point as well as a picnic spot. As we climbed we came across a jolly Bhutanese family, out for a picnic on a holiday, who offered us some water and food as they enjoyed their afternoon meal.

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Thimpu Festival- Dragon Dance

Climbing down the mountain, we reached the Royal Palace, home to the Royal Family of Bhutan. On account of the cultural festival,  it was thrown open to public, barring a few areas in the palace. The palace was enormous and beautiful with traditional Bhutanese art demonstrated in the wall paintings or the Thangka’s as the Bhutanese called them. At the other end of the palace was an enormous amphitheatre, where performances were ongoing as a part of the festival. We entered the grounds and headed for the amphitheater. The sights, sounds and colours amazed us. The “Dragon Dance”, one of the twelve traditional Bhutanese dances was co-ordinated to perfection with the bugal producing deafeningly loud music. Its said that every Bhutanese should watch the Dragon Dance once in their lives to attain salvation. We definitely attained ours that day! The palace wasn’t the biggest I have seen, but yet it was culturally, the richest palace I have ever seen.

The afternoon progressed to evening and just as the sun was about to drown into the clouds, we decided to invite our new  Bhutanese friend and her roommate for dinner and drinks. The evening was spent at the market place of the city, where we treated ourselves to some authentic Bhutanese dishes, followed by some spirited and soulful singing at a local karaoke bar.

Day 3:

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View from the Dochula Pass

Bureaucracy is synonymous with South Asian countries and Bhutan was no different. Obtaining a permit to visit Punakha, the third major city in the country was no mean task. It had pushed back our plans for the day by a couple of hours.

Nonetheless, we set out on a topsy-turvy ride à la a roller coaster. The roads were dug up and the repair work that had been carried out was shoddy. Within the hour, we had reached the Dochula Pass , a vantage point with a view of four of the tallest peaks in Bhutan, each one being a part of the Himalayan range.

Fortunately, we had a good day with clear skies, one which allowed us to view the mountain peaks in all their glory. A quaint French Cafe lay on one side of this point and a memorial housing 108 Druk Wangyal Khangzang Chhortens lies on the other side. These Chortens offer a tribute to the selfless service and visionary leadership of His Majesty the King, and are now a sacred legacy to the nation and the Bhutanese people.

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Punakha Dzong

The brief stop-over at the Dochula pass was followed by an even bumpier ride to Punakha to tour the Punakha Dzong, the venue of the most recent Royal Wedding in 2011. The entrance was adorned with a canopy of flowers and dragons, one which was used for the wedding

The Dzong was majestic in its appearance, constructed at the point where the two rivers, the Ko Chu and the Pho Chu met to form the KoChu-PhoChu, a single river which flowed into the Thimpu valley from thereon in.

What we enjoyed more than the Dzong was the ride back from Punakha. Due to construction work, the roads leading to Thimpu from Punakha were blocked for a few hours daily. And as luck had it, the roads were blocked at the time of our return.

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View from the Ghats

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View from the Ghats

Not ones to waste the opportunity, my friend and I set out on foot along the meandering roads in the hills leading down to Thimpu. The roads were dirty and messy, but the surroundings were surreal. It seemed as though we had descended onto the Shire in the fictional “Lord of the Rings” with mountains on either side leading down into a valley which was dotted with a single habitat surrounded by swathes of trees and grass. The wind was friendly and the temperature just right for an unplanned excursion as this one.

We walked for almost an hour, covering close to 5 km, a distance our vehicle covered in just 10 minutes. No vehicle could make us experience what our trek helped us experience.

We returned to our hotel rooms, later that evening, exhausted but enriched with the experience. An experience to cherish for a lifetime. The night was spent eating local food and whiling away our time at the same Karaoke Bar.

Day 4:

Our last day in Thimpu, was spent visiting the Jigme Dorji National Park, one which housed the national animal- The Takin, a cross breed between a goat and a cow and the Memorial Chorten, built by the Queen Mother in memory of her son, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the erstwhile King of Bhutan.

The afternoon was spent lazing around at the Market place shopping for souvenirs and memorabilia from the beautiful city of Thimpu.

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An Authentic Bhutanese Meal

The day was capped off with an invite to the residence of our newly made Bhutanese friends for a scrumptious Bhutanese meal.

The meal consisted of well cooked Kewa Datsi (potatoes cooked in cheese sauce), Ema Datsi (beans cooked in cheese sauce), noodles and rice, with some spicy chilli serving as a side dish. The meal was utterly delightful and our hosts very hospitable.

After gulping down every last bit of the meal made by our local hosts, we enjoyed the night life of Thimpu.

This was our last day at Thimpu. It was time to move to Paro for the next three days.

(To be continued.. )

Motherhood

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She lay there in the hospital bed with the monitors beeping, the hospital stench making her feel nauseous, the nurses crowding around trying to do something useful and a team of doctors discussing their options. The world to her seemed blurred, the powerful lights were dimmed out and all that went through her mind was, “NOT AGAIN”

Ally had been married for 10 years, yes 10 years and still hadn’t given birth to a single child. She had conceived twice already, but both had ended in an abortion, just a few weeks into her pregnancy. And this one was no different. Or rather it was. Her previous abortions did not pose any problems to her health per se, but this one did. The third one proved to be unlucky. Her unborn child had died inside of her and had caused the venom to flow into her blood, damaging her internal organs, instead of expelling itself out. Who’d imagine that an unborn child could cause such harm. And yet it had and Ally had to bear the consequences.

She wasn’t in her senses. She was blinded by her need for a child. The doctors had warned her to avoid any further pregnancies without appropriate tests and yet she didn’t listen. Gerry, her husband, would try to convince her to go to the City and get the tests done. But, Ally was a stubborn girl. She never wanted to leave the comfort of her magical life in the small town, surrounded by tall tress and trimmed grass and wooden houses.

And here she was. In the hospital bed, semi-conscious, barely able to breathe with a dead foetus in her womb and poison in her blood.

The doctors had decided to operate on her. To remove the dead foetus and cleanse her womb of all the impurities. Even then her chances of seeing the other side of anaesthesia were minimal. Gerry just wanted to save her life. Ally just wanted to have a child with Gerry. Was life worth living if she couldn’t have the child with him?

“I love you, sweetie. Everything’s going to be all right,” Gerry said, his thick accent blurred out with the tears in his eyes.

“We have each other, baby, we don’t need a child to prove our love. Once you get better, we’ll have those doctors from the City come over and test you all right!”

That was wishful thinking on Gerry’s part. His job as a lumberjack and Ally’s as a school teacher, would never allow them to afford the luxury of having a City doctor come over to their quaint town. But hope was all he could offer at that time.

Two hours later, the doctor came out of the operating room and spoke to Gerry.

“We have done our job. The rest we must leave to the powers above.”

Ally was wheeled out of the theatre and into the Intensive Care. She was on a ventilator, blood was flowing into her veins from a bag and tubes were hanging out from almost every part of her body. Would she ever survive this?

Ally didn’t survive it. She passed away the next day. Gerry was distraught. His life seemed over.

 

A few months passed by, when Gerry received a call from Dr. Green.

“Gerry, I need to meet you in person. I’m coming to the town this weekend. Please drop by at the hospital and we can have a talk.”

Gerry wondered what that was all about, but played along. The weekend came and he went to the hospital to meet Dr. Green. The doctors cabin was big, quite big actually for such a young doctor, Gerry thought to himself. It was adorned with medals and certificates from various places, most of them Gerry had no idea about.

Dr. Green entered as Gerry was admiring his cabin. He had a brief conversation with Gerry and gave him instructions. Gerry was in disbelief, but decided to find out himself.

That night Gerry went home and opened the medicine cabinet. He hadn’t seen the medicine cabinet in years. He was a healthy man with a frugal diet with physical activity factored in too. He had not seen a doctor for years. All the medicines in the cabinet belonged to his late wife.

As he went through the medicines, he found a container with a label which read T.Mifepristone. He slumped. His eyes welled up with tears.

Mifepristone was the tablet she had taken to kill all his babies while she bore them in her womb. It was a medicine used to cause abortions.

Gerry was angry and yet upset at the same time. He couldn’t fathom the fact that Ally had done this! He wanted answers to his questions, he wanted to know why!

Dr. Green was intrigued by Ally’s case and had taken her blood and urine samples to the University Lab for testing. He’d expected to find something pathological, but the only abnormality in the samples was traces of Mifepristone in her urine. He’d normally not check for it, but he had seen cases of mothers-to-be with recurrent abortions and normal labs, test positive for Mifepristone. It had something to do with the mother not accepting her child and going through intra-partum depression. She would thus end up aborting the child with Mifepristone.

Ally was depressed. Depressed because she wasn’t sure what kind of a mother she’d be. She was worried if she would ever give her kids as much love as her mother gave her. She was worried that her kids may turn out to be junkies or gypsies or dopeheads or whatever the current crop of children land up doing when they enter their teenage.

Ally would constantly fight against these images in her head and reassure herself that everything would be fine. But the next moment she’d become a nervous wreck again. She couldn’t take it. She thought her apprehensions would disappear after the first, but they only became stronger.

When she had her third, she carried it for much longer than the others. But, as time passed by, she developed the same apprehensions. She was depressed and took the pills. Not knowing that taking those pills in her second trimester would be disastrous.

What Ally had never considered was talking to Gerry about it. How could she? Tell him that she wasn’t ready to be a mother to his children!

If only Ally would have spoken to Gerry, if only she had communicated her feelings to him. Maybe things would’ve been different. Maybe Ally would’ve been alive and a mother today. But, it wasn’t meant to be….

 

Culture and Medicine

An amazing insight into the way different cultures treat diseases differently!

angury

People come to doctors for help. Pain is one of the main reasons people turn to healthcare professionals. They seek relief, rehabilitation and a listening ear. But do I express pain in the same way as you? If I suffer from a headache, I may be more inclined to sleep it off than a friend who will search for the paracetamol. We all know that stoic amongst our friends; the one who shows no emotion and rarely appears to be phased by anything. Everyone has their own way of dealing with pain and distress, and culture is its biggest influence.

Culture defines how a person views themselves, their relationships and the things that are important in their life (Kleinman and Benson 2006). It can affect how we dress, what we eat and even what occupation we go into. It has been suggested that individualists make judgments about happiness based on recent…

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