Being sick makes you feel selfish
Is it human instinct to be not concerned when the chips are down?
What time is it? I had lost the sense of time, having been confined to my room except for a couple of forays into the kitchen in the last few days. I tried to read the time on the modern art the morning rays painted on the walls. I tried to hear the pulse of time in the cacophony rising from the street that borders my bedroom. I decided to laze around for a while longer.
As a sick child, I used to lie on my belly, keeping an ear on the pillow to listen to my own heartbeat. It was great fun eavesdropping on the 'Orchestra of Life' that the heart conducts in that little spiritual arena of our temporal existence. It was so rhythmic, so numinous. Whenever I thought I failed to pick up the echo, I'd whisper to the pillow: "Don't stop. Let the show go on." But, one day, the great conductor lost his pitch. I've since stopped listening to my heart, sick or healthy, dreading to hear a sour note.
I have been sick for a week now. I could hear an old Yezdi bike vrooming in my trachea and a million germs hacking at my throat. In the growing up years, I faked tears to get things done. That was not a sin in a joint family. I longed for a cup of coffee now. That's how I began my day even in healthier times. I wanted to groan and growl, but wasn't sure it would work. It wasn't fair to order around because the rest of the family was equally ill. So, I strayed into my daughter's room with a request: "Vava, can you please make some coffee?"
"Coffee? Okay, make a U-turn and keep walking. On your left is the kitchen." She was already up and reading a book. "All are ill, dad. Help yourself."
"Point taken," I said, thinking calmly if it is human instinct to be selfish when the chips are down. According to English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, humans were savagely self-centered but were saved by the social contract of civil laws, whereas Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau argued that people were born good, instinctively concerned with the welfare of others.
"If you're making coffee, some for me too." I looked around to see the applicant. The feeble voice came from underneath an unfolded quilt on my bed. "No sugar, please." Wifey stuck her neck out, quivering as she was fighting a high fever.
On the living room sofa was another pile of blankets under which my son presumably slept. A bowl full of medicated water, which I imagine he used for steaming overnight, lay on the centre table.
"Dad, make some kanji (porridge) for me, please." Words slithered out of the blanket. Looked like he felt my presence from a loud coughing bout. "I've lost the sense of taste for food due to fever."
"Okay, dear," I said between bursts of cough. "Guys, where's that Vicks lozenges? I'm so desperate."
"I had the last one, dad." Vava's voice was coarse from days of coughing.
Tea was delivered to all in bed. Kanji was in the pressure cooker and would be ready in 10 minutes. But would anyone have it without curry or chutney? I remembered saving some dal from the previous day's lunch.
"Where's the last ounce of dal I'd kept in the fridge?"
"I had it with bread before sun break. Was so hungry," someone said.
"Where is that last piece of curd chilli? That's the only stuff that fights the bitterness in my mouth."
"I had it for dinner," someone said.
"How dare you? Where's that half papad I had saved up from last night's dinner?"
"Anything that's not there has been put to use by someone," someone said.
I headed for the kitchen again, this time to cook some chickpeas masala. In the afternoon, I ferried them all to different clinics for appointments. One had an X-ray taken to check for pneumonia, while another had an influenza test. Yet another wanted to change her clinic.
"I have my nebulisation appointment," I said.
"Take me first, no? No medicine seems to work on me." Wifey was almost in tears. I obliged. She had to take drip injection for high fever and other bacterial tests. I had lost the sense of time again. By the time I reached my hospital, lights were off on the OP floor. Counters lay closed and there was no trace of the staff. "OP closes at 9.30pm, sir." A cleaner reminded.
Vava came home late as I rested on the sofa. "They called. Today's my birthday." She was teary-eyed.
"Happy birthday, baby. Who called?"
"The gym people. They switched off the lights to surprise me. There were 30-35 of them with a cake. I was so overwhelmed. People are so good, dad. Problem is with us, our ego, prejudice, selfishness, arrogance. Game for some coffee?"
"Sure, why not?"
I felt so bad about forgetting to wish her on her birthday. The feeling that I have been selfish by my thoughts since morning hammered me. The jury is still out on whether we are good or bad, cooperative or selfish, especially in adversities.