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retread| The Unbearable Lightness 9 May 2008

Posted by EDITOR in BARAKA, Culture.
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Retreads are quality posts from yesterweeks that are given a second run on Fridays. This piece was originally shared by BARAKA (then a guest contributor) on 4 June 2006..

I’m what the nurses call a hard stick. My veins literally go into hiding & shrivel at the sight of a needle.

I need to drink gallons of water starting the day before to plumb them & even then the special IV nurse must be summoned to hot-pack my arms for 20-30 minutes just to locate a vein, tight-wrap, dig around, & repeatedly poke at it to finally get a very small IV in place. The IV is supposed to last at least three days, but I’m lucky if I can make it that far without it getting downright irritable.

Ever since I was little, I wanted to be a doctor like Daddy & prepared by brazenly watching all sorts of graphic TV surgeries, or while they extracted tubes of blood from my arm. But that all changed suddenly one year, and it was my kismet instead to become a lily-livered literature major that passes out at the sight of her own blood. Not helpful when you have to have stomach-churning medical procedures done on a regular basis. (We seem constantly to be confronted by that which we fear or do not understand.)

I trace it back to the summer I was 16, when I took to fainting in all sorts of inappropriate corners of Pureland. The smell of an alcohol swab, the sight of a syringe, the brief zing! of the earring-wala poking a hole with a hot needle in my lobe in Anarkali of all places, all signaled imminent fading. I grew to expect the distant greening of vision, the rushing in my ears as I was swept away into elsewhere. My Father diagnosed a growth spurt. My Mother suspected a desire for drama. My family grew used to spreading me across stools and counters, laying me down on random cars, and began carrying a sheet so that they could prop me wherever I swayed – & then carry on haggling with the vegetable-wala in peace. I was a trying child in some ways.

That year, after being properly inoculated against water-borne diseases & fainting in response, I trekked down with my gaggle of dreamers Malika, Mun, & Mara to the Islamabad Club swimming pool every weekday evening during Ladies’ Hours when it was shielded by colorful shamianas both from prying male eyes and the skin-darkening rays of the sun. (Both equally important to unmarried Purelander lasses.)

Each night we first did 40 deliberate laps because we were determined to have buff thighs though they might never see the light of Pureland day. And they most certainly did not, though we could & often did proudly flex them in our all-encompassing shalvars just for the sheer joy of hidden strength & unseen beauty.

Afterwards, under the light of the stars & occasional moon we would shout & cannonball off the high board, float peacefully until some Aunty in a hideous bathing cap whacked us on her way by, and, finally, sneak off for a smoke in the bushes because we were such badasses. At least, we thought we were, but here we were at Ladies’ Hours while other girls were giving definition to the word in ways we were far too innocent to imagine or dare to try. To round off the evening, we’d shower off & trot over to the Club dining hall where we would sip chai, & dine on cheese toast & Mulligatawny soup in suitably colonial surroundings. (All billed to Abuji, of course.)

Eventually the swim nights would peter out as the miserly Club authorities refused to clean the pool, & one night we would find the mucus content & hot-like-fresh-pee water temperature just too much to put up with. We would fondly bid it farewell until we could pull enough strings to get the pool refilled with delicious, deep, dark, cold water that shook one’s limbs & heart & made one scream with delight after jumping in – but never quite faint.

I miss those days when a needle prick signaled swooning into days of lingering pleasure, not pain.

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