25 October 2010

Do you make a good Malaysian?

Okay! Small break off work so I can quickly tell you about this funny story before it slips through my lazy mind.

It happened a few days back when me and my cousins Marian and Rosy were trying to get to this salon in Jubilee Hills to get Marian's hair done (Hakim's Alim - this one stylist who was there was a total dickhead by the way. I hope he reads this. Sweet receptionist though).

Anyway there was a rickshaw shortage in the city that day due to the drivers sulking about being forced to use the meter I think. So we waited and waited and waited and were on the verge of giving up when finally an old man in a gleaming chariot came riding up and halted and asked us where we wanted to go. (It was actually a rickety rick but at that stage even a rusty bicycle would've been, for us, akin to a knightly steed.)

"Jubilee Hills" we said, to which he readily agreed to go. And when we asked him how much (which is the norm because as you may have already guessed, the drivers only quote their own prices and don't use the meter so one always has to bargain first), to which he again happily replied "Free, madam!"

I asked him again because I thought I heard him wrong, but he stressed again that he would take us wherever we wanted to go free of charge. And while we were pondering over the strangeness of this kind gesture, he said "I have just one request, I'll take you to this shop where you quickly browse around for a couple of minutes. All you have to do is tell them you're from Malaysia when they ask you where you're from."

"But we're from Hyderabad" we said. Still continuing to smile peacefully he told us that was okay, we just have to lie and tell them we're from Malaysia. It seemed like a harmless enough request, and we were desperate and a free rickshaw ride!? How many times do you get that offer in a lifetime? So we said okay and off we went.

Along the way he explained that there was some South-east Asian convention in the city and certain stores expect a lot of South-east Asian tourists/shoppers and he gets some monetary compensation for every foreign shopper he brings to their shops. I knew the kind of shops he would take us to and I warned him that even though we will look, we most definitely will not be buying anything. He okayed it all.

We found ourselves in front of a fancy, high-end handicrafts shop in some posh corner of town. The three of us trooped in confidently and were welcomed with open arms. By and by, the inevitable question came - "Where are you from madam?" And horror of horrors! I discovered I could not say 'Malaysia'! I opened my mouth but nothing came out. No sound of 'Malaysia' escaped my parched lips.

The nice gentleman looked at me opening and closing my mouth but when no answer came forth, he probably thought I was just imitating a fish out of water (which I sort of was) because Malaysians do it all the time and he frequently gets Asian customers who walk into his shop and out of pure excitement start imitating a fish I guess.

Undeterred he cleared his throat and asked again. And again the mouth opened, but no sound issued forth. It was the most uncomfortable feeling in the world, and I was so close to panic I even for a second contemplated acting deaf and mute.

Now I'm not pretending to be an angel or anything. I can lie. I can twist the truth around and even sound very convincing at it. I'm in advertising after all :D But the thing is, there has to be an essence of truth in it. Give me a piece of truth to use as a core and I can wrap pretty lies around it. But unless I have that base to work on, I'm useless. I just can't do it.

Thankfully Marian came to the rescue and smoothly told him that we were from Malaysia. They aahed and told us how delighted they were to have us and raved about how much they like our country. We smiled politely and putting on the airs of moneyed tourists started browsing through their wares.

"Are you here for the convention?" they asked. This one was easy. Before anyone could answer, I shouted "NO." Maybe a little too enthusiastically but I think they were happy to see that I was not, after all, mute. (See I can be good when I have that basis of truth :))

They fawned over us, took out their best silk and cashmere and amethysts and silver and spread them out before us. Like we were royalty. Bliss! I started to enjoy myself and tried on their cashmere wraps and crystal jewelries while trying to find some excuse for not wanting to buy anything I tried on (other than not being able to afford it - which was the truth).

Lost in the loveliness of the things they threw at us, and the smell of expensive, exotic perfumes wafting in the air made us forget about our promised 2 minute browsing time. We draped the cashmere shawls around our shoulders, tried on the many bejeweled earrings...Marian got so into our roles that when she tried on an expensive silk scarf at the request of the owner, she tied it around her head like a typical Malaysian headscarf instead of around her neck which is the only way she's ever worn scarves in her entire life.

30 minutes later we reluctantly decided to leave. I had despite all good intentions also picked out a georgette saree that I could afford, and as I about to pay my bill, I heard one of the salesmen exclaim "Welcome sir! Come in come in." I glanced at the door, and I saw a group of Asian men making their way in through the door. Catching me, an Asian woman, staring, they beamed with gladness. At running into a sister in such a far-off and foreign land I suppose. They all turned and smiled at me.

I knew immediately without a doubt that they were Malaysian. Female intuition, sixth sense, divine intervention, whatever it was, I knew it was a bunch of Malaysian men smiling at me that very moment. And I panicked. I managed the quickest smile that ever passed through human lips and looked away immediately. My pulse quickened, my heart was beating against my chest, and my hands trembled as I handed the salesman my credit card. I tried to smile, told him that I just noticed the time and that I was running late for an appointment and could he please hurry up.

"Of course madam" he chirped happily. But his movements were slow and deliberate, I knew he wanted those men to come to us and start a conversation. They wanted their store to be full of happy Malaysians excitedly chattering away in Malaysian! Malaysian men meeting their countrywomen in a foreign land, convincing each other to use their Malaysian Rupiahs to buy tiny silver elephants and ridiculously expensive chairs imported from Dubai and other such nonsense.

Me and Rosy became by some magic perfect candidates for extra roles in the Night of the Living Dead. I could tell Rosy was even more terrified than I was. Marian was hanging around somewhere in the back oblivious of the danger we were in.

Then the dreaded nightmare happened. A voice, belonging to one of the wretched salesmen who I would have loved to smite down in great earnest if I had been a smaller God. But because I'm not one and only Gods can smite and I can only...kick (Karate lessons :)) no smiting happened.

Anyway, back to story. The voice rang out through the store - "Ooh what a coincidence! Madams here also from Malaysia!" And before I knew it, they'd sauntered over..I couldn't breathe. I stood there, staring at the wall, stone-faced, being the meanest person in the world because these men were sweet and all smiley-ey and beaming at us. And worse, all the salesmen the store had, about 5 of them, stood around us, beaming radiantly at this joyful union as well.

How do I explain the thoughts that went through my head at this point. It went something like this - "That's it, if they come any closer, I'm just going to come clean. I'll say 'Stop we're not Malaysian so don't come any closer and I'm really sorry but we were lying because the rickshaw guy asked us to and it seemed pretty harmless at first and we really needed to get somewhere and we were desperate but we're sorry and we'll never do it again because we suck at this and it's not a nice thing to do and I'll buy more of your nice things if you'll forgive us!!"

Then I heard it. "As Salam Alay Kum!" (Arabic for 'Peace be unto you') said a male voice. Me and Rosy steadily trembled (Hah! An oxymoron there?). Then a female voice, loud and clear, answered "Alay Kum Salaam!" Shocked I stole a furtive glance and saw the female voice belonged to Marian. What's more, it looked like she had just straightened from a little bowing of the body! She bowed while saying "Alay Kum Salaam"! I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time. Rosy and I looked at each other, too scared to laugh but too bemused by the perfect Arabic greeting to cry.

In any case, I thought that's it, we're caught, there's no way she can go beyond that. But surprisingly they switched to English. I heard them ask if we were in Hyderabad for the convention and other relatively safe questions. I thought things looked better and we may yet make a dignified exit.

Then I heard one of the men ask "Which part of Malaysia are you from?" The question even though not directed at me made me shiver to my bones, for everything I knew about Malaysia flew away like a bird the moment I heard it.

Slight pause. Then I heard Marian say bravely "Pedang."


I told the guy to hurry with my saree.

"Yes Pedang"

"Weird, I've never heard of it."

One guy was trying to wrap my saree in some flowered paper, I grabbed it "No need to wrap!" He wouldn't let go. "DON'T wrap it!" I literally screamed.

Malaysian guy to Malaysian guy: "Do you know where Pedang is?"

Second guy to first: "Nope never heard of it."

Guy stuffs my saree in brown paper bag.

Marian (sounding indignant): "Of course there's Pedang. Our grandparents live there. We live here in Hyderabad with our parents but our grandparents live in Pedang which IS in Malaysia!"

Guy slowly takes out a shopping bag and equally slowly drops my sari in. Rosy and I wrangled the shopping bag from the lazy guy and dashed out the door, grabbing Marian along the way. It was rather rude I admit, as we didn't even give Marian a chance to bid farewell to her newfound Malaysian friends.

But something told me her farewell wouldn't be as smooth as her greeting because she doesn't know how to say 'Later' or 'See you' or even a simple 'Bye!' in Malaysian.

Once we reached the safety of the rick, we laughed till our stomachs hurt. Then Marian got angry at us. She was embarrassed because she made a fool of herself. She wanted to know why we didn't tell them that we were from Thailand or the Philippines even. She screamed that she will never ever go out with us again and that we were not worthy of being called cousins. Then we laughed some more and headed towards the salon.

Then it turned out that the salon only had that one asshole Arabic-scarf-wearing stylist so we bought some clothes at a nearby store and went home.

(Also what is it about these scarves that all wannabe hairdresser/stylist types think they should have one around some part of their snooty bodies at all times?! And snooty for what reason I haven't been able to fathom.)

Anyway, my advice to anyone who is not Malaysian who gets an offer to act Malaysian for a free rickshaw ride, say no. Its just not worth putting your heart through that kind of stress.

15 October 2010

Battle scarred but alive and kicking :)

Okay, first ever thyroidless post of my life. Another milestone. Not one that I thought I'd ever cross but here we are, and everything seems to be intact. My surgeon was afraid of two things - that my voice might change. For life. Or that I might have to breathe through a breathing tube for a few days but the operation went smoothly and I still sound the same and I'm still breathing through my nose :)

My doctors have been amazing, and the nurses were sweet and helpful. Check out my pre-surgery hairstyle one of the helpers sweetly did for me. Pretty fashionable huh? :)

It's been 11 days after my thyroid surgery and about 50 days since my leg surgery. When you just listen to all of this, this test and that and this surgery and that surgery and this treatment and that, it sounds like a lot to go through within a couple of months, and you'd think I'd be battered and bruised and sucked dry of energy by now. But in all honesty, I feel and look the same, except for this new huge scar across my neck. I feel as healthy as I did before all of this started and I thought I was the healthiest human being on earth.

I also really want to talk about how once you go through it, despite how scary everything may sound, none of it involves pain that is worse than....than stubbing your toe. So it's really not that bad at all :-) Just in case there's someone out there facing something similar and you're scared.

There are so many procedures that can sound downright terrifying but when you go through it they're okay and the few bad ones are the fairly common ones that you wouldn't even think twice about normally. In fact, let me list out my most unliked parts ranging from their levels of pain/unpleasantness involved:

1. Surgery; Thyroidectomy - no pain (on account of me being out like a light maybe but in the end, what matters is that you feel no pain).

2. Nausea from the anesthesia - bad bad bad especially when your throat had been cut open the previous day and you feel doing something like retching might pop open your raw wound and your leftover thyroid area tissue might come spilling out :P

3. Countless needle pricks - very little physical pain but mentally unpleasant.

4. Night in the ICU - highly uncomfortable but no pain, and the discomfort only mainly from being unable to move freely because you're hooked up to so many machines. And remaining still is not one of my fortes. And don't forget being thirsty to death but not being allowed to drink. It made me remember the rich man from the Lazarus story in the Bible (the beggar, not the one that Jesus raised from the dead) and like him I wanted to call out 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus with a little water so I can cool my tongue.' But alas, even the freedom of speech was taken from me that one night.

5. Neck harmonium :P - well I just call this the harmonium. After the surgery, there was this pipe coming out of my neck (gak!!!) and into this contraption that looks like a harmonium. And I had the tube coming out of my neck for the next 3 days after surgery. But this was still not the worst because there's nothing more shiver-inducing than...

6. Peeing in a bed pan while lying prone in bed! - how do I explain the horror of all that this act involves! Luckily for me, it was only that one night in the ICU that I was forced to do this but I have to say, because I peed in a bed pan that night, I am forever scarred. But remember this if you ever have to do this - if you can pee in a bed pan without getting up from bed, you can do anything!

I'm awaiting my next line of treatment which is the radioactive iodine therapy. I don't know how bad that's going to be, but I know it's not nasty like chemotherapy so I thank my lucky stars for that. I'll just be really radioactive for a few days and I've gone through a somewhat similar experience before so I believe the worst is really over.

It's also really bad looking at your thyroid floating around in some liquid. I would've posted a picture but I think it would be appropriate to show some respect to my thyroid and leave it alone. But maybe I can use this one - my last picture ever with a thyroid :) Before I was being wheeled into the operation theatre.

But more than anything, this is mainly to thank everyone who called, messaged, emailed, visited, gave me flowers and wished me well in the past couple of weeks. I can't explain in words how truly grateful I am. You've all taught me one very valuable lesson - I will treat every single sick person I know with so much compassion than I've ever been able to show before because I know now how even the smallest show of concern can mean so much to someone lying in a hospital bed.

And to everyone, it is not easy to really comprehend how terribly you need your your family and friends when everything in your life is going great. But you WILL need them at some point in your life, and they are soo precious and important keep them close and love and cherish them.

Oh and make sure you have insurance :-) Even when you think you're young and healthy. You don't know what may happen.