One “flu” over the cuckoo’s nest

Over the turn of the New Year, I was ‘down’ with a terribly ‘flu’. It’s hard for me to tell if that’s irony or simply a play of words, where I should be down with something that suggests I should be flying. When I get a cold, I usually do my little concoction of vitamin C, crocin, steam inhalations, and anti-allergic stuff, and it’s gone in 3 days. This time it stayed with me for 2 weeks. The virus didn’t want to seem to leave – just like a delayed Air India flight.

Having the flu is the most irritating of ailments to have; a close second is a fungal infection in your groin, but discussing this is not ideal on a Sunday morning, so I will leave that aside. The cold usually begins by alternating between a stuffy and runny nose until it clogs your sinuses and makes your head feel like you’re carrying dumb-bells filled with marbles inside it and that too under water. Ginger is purchased in bulk and the house begins to smell like a eucalyptus garden. I make every attempt to clear clogged passages by gently sniffing but that begins to irritate everyone around me.


As the days progress, the head gets heavier, the secretions thicker, and the snorting louder. I make that typical grunting sound normally heard from taxi walas before they spit out a serpentine syringe of paan; in my case, it’s to cough up all the copious amounts of yellow sputum. This is what gives me the greatest amount of relief and hence pleasure – albeit only for 3 minutes until everything re-accumulates. By this time my kids have started to love all the unheard-of sounds in the world and want to play with me even more, but my wife has disowned me.


Everyone has a suggestion on what to do for a cold, just like how everyone used to advise Sachin Tendulkar on how to hit the cricket ball. “Put some Vicks on the soles of your feet and wear socks and go to sleep,” my aunt said. Why would I not put it on my nose and forehead like normal people do? “Why don’t you try some ginger paste and put it on your face at night” was my kaki’s suggestion. “At least that way I’ll be able to scare the thieves who are doing the rounds in ground floor flats in the colony of late. Luckily, no one suggested I put anything up my butt crack so that it could travel up my spine and soothe my brain.


Arre, best is to put some brandy in warm water, add some lavang to it, and you’ll be fine.” I throw up at the thought. My colleague suggested, ‘Try adding vodka to black tea. When you sip the tea, the alcohol will vaporize and clear your nose.” I tried it but it didn’t help. My driver stated that D-cold and Adusol is what I should be taking. My maid suggested that I visit her homeopathic doctor. She also said, “You doctors know nothing.” When I asked a GP what I should do for it, he said, “We don’t have a cure for a common cold yet, so drink lots of ice water, have a cold-water shower, and then sleep directly under the AC with the fan on full-speed; once the cold becomes pneumonia, we can treat it with antibiotics.” Apparently, my maid is right.


I’m only on Day 5 of my illness and about to host a family dinner at home to bring in the New Year when the entire 90 kilos of my body start hurting. All the muscles of my body are crunching against my bones, urging me to make a trip to Thailand to get them sorted out. There was a time when we went to the Dadar Parsee Gymkhana every year two decades ago to celebrate New Year’s eve. Every year, there was a new date, a new outfit, and the hours of getting back home the next morning kept getting prolonged each year. A flashback now to the last 5 years sees me married with two kids tugging at my pants every few seconds, and even going to the end of the road seems like an ordeal. The date is the same and so is the outfit: a pair of stripped boxers, sadra, and kusti. This time we had the flu for company along with a bunch of unwanted relatives. When I have the flu, I become angry, cynical, irritating, sarcastic, and extremely unpleasant, and I begin to say things I really mean. The disturbing hacking cough also makes me extremely annoying to be around.


8 PM: I greet all my guests with some amount of disdain. They come in with the expectant fervour that people have at this time of the year, only to be dampened by the mood I’m in. My wife tries to cheer me up: “Think of all your patients who have worse problems. You only have a cold for God’s sake, and are behaving like the only person on the world who has ever had it.” To which I retorted, “I operate on my patients and they go home in 3 days if they have a brain problem and the next day if it’s a spine problem. They are instantly happy and healthy, not suffering like I am.” She makes a face, the kind of face that makes me take my words back – at least in my own head, but that’s already so full right now that there’s no space for anything else in it.


9 PM: More cousins pour in with more children. I threaten to pass on my infection to them but before I know it, they have ransacked my house and it now looks like Mumbai as it did when vandalized by some senseless fanatics a week later. I try and call for a Bombay bandh but I forget I’m a minority, even in my own home. I let the domestic indignities continue. I mix cognac with cough syrup and take a swig, hoping that it might take away my blues, but instead, it makes my stomach feel like a raging ball of fire. Now my head is clogged, my body hurts, my throat feels like a woodpecker’s nest, and I want to vomit. I feel like I’m going cuckoo. “You’re a horrible and ungracious host,” I hear a muffled voice say. Even in this near-death state of mine and without turning around, I can tell it’s my mom. I intentionally cough up another 10 ml of “bulgum” just to irritate her further.


10 PM: I forward all the clocks in the house to 11:55 PM and pretending to be perky, start wishing everyone, hoping that they might leave. No use. They are only three drinks down and won’t eat until the neighbouring fireworks confirm that it is indeed the New Year – just like in Mumbai traffic when you don’t need to see the signal turn green; the guy behind you will honk and let u know that it’s time to start driving. I give up, pull up a chair, and sit in one corner. The DJ is horrible, the food is tasteless, and what hurts most is that everyone around me seems to be having a great time.


11 PM: The intensity and barrage of mindless nonsensical WhatsApp New Year messages go into fourth gear. Most of them are wishing me a healthy and happy New Year, none of which is the state of my mind or body at the moment. I remember a time, many, many years ago, when phone lines used to be jammed around midnight and we couldn’t get through our near and dear ones. Now, nobody calls anyone anymore. People start sending Happy New Year messages a week in advance. If you can wish 10,000 people at the press of a single click, why would you call? I received three phone calls this New Year: one from my bank, one from a patient, and one from MTNL, saying I had an outstanding bill to be paid.



The Witching Hour: The godforsaken clock finally struck what it was supposed to. We have a really large family, so the next 45 minutes went in hugging and kissing everyone. I’m sure I passed on the infection to a few of them; at least, I hope I did. I requested them to eat soon and by 1 AM, thankfully, everyone had left. I boil a tapeli of hot water to do my fifth steam of the day. Those warm vapours loosen up my thick secretions and allow some warm air to hit my brain, and even though, anatomically, that just isn’t possible, it sure feels like that. My thoughts begin to clear up. I become philosophical.


I am suddenly grateful for this family of mine. Thankful that I have such beautiful people to celebrate these moments with. Pleased that they are accepting of me, even when I am not accepting of them. Mindful of the fact that these ailments compare nothing to the conditions my patients and their families suffer. I wipe the condensed droplets of water off my nose to kiss my wife and kids goodnight and a happy New Year. I sneeze on them in the bargain. Ping. Another WhatsApp message: The way we choose to see the world creates the world we see.