An unseasonably cold winter had turned our city into Coldcutta, the capital New Chilly, and near it is Brr..Gaon.
There are those who bring out the monkey caps and woolly inners and with several layers on them move out as if nothing has happened (more power to their elbows!) and there are others, mostly elderly people who complain of cold in their bones. I know someone who always has a bad tummy upset or two in the winter. When I was very young I heard it described as a tummy chill: that particular ailment has gone out of style, like Boots A.P.C. tablets.
Nowadays a winter stomach problem is a bug, requires allopathic medicines and perhaps an antibiotic like any other.
Hypochondria flourishes in cold weather: more aches and pains, more sniffles and blocked noses, more coughs, more patches in the lungs etc.
I have heard young people say about us: don’t ask them how they are or they will tell you in insufferable detail. A sweat bubble becomes a cancerous ‘growth’, a cold brings on thoughts of spending the few days remaining to him on a ventilator.
An elderly person I knew had three attacks of cancer and several cardiac arrests in a year. He once did an imitation of a cardiac arrest that was better than the real thing: I was so convinced I rushed off to get the friendly neighbourhood doctor who had just sat down to lunch. He smiled pleasantly at me, asked his wife to give him another piece of fish for his lunch, and then proceeded to eat it all plus his mishti, drank a glass of water and only after that agreed to accompany me to examine his patient, who was in high spirits and perfectly well when we arrived. I felt mortified.
The hypochondriac I fear is the learned one: who uses technical terminology to describe his most minor ailment. Words like emphysema, cervical spondylosis, hypoglycaemia, cardiac insufficiency, lack of endotracheal oxygenation, even abbreviations like DVT trip off his tongue like the latest pop song. One is expected to know what all these terms mean and what their etiology is. He looks at you pityingly when you don’t have a clue because he expects educated listeners who can contribute to the discussion with an equal number of polysyllables.
They must not however try to claim more complicated illnesses for themselves. The hypochondriac brooks no competition. One such learned hypochondriac looked particularly chuffed on one occasion. It appears an ultra-sound examination had confirmed what he knew all along: that he had a floating kidney. He is impossible to invite to dinner because he has a long list of foods that he is convinced will kill him instanta.
No red meat, no chicken, no eggs, no sea-foods, no vegetables, nothing deep-fried and if you are very unlucky he is also lactose intolerant, so one cannot fob him off with a “sandesh.”
He doesn’t believe in medicines because of their side effects. Antibiotics will get rid of the bad bacteria as well as the good ones: so he has nothing to do with them. Now and then he will speak lovingly of a “short sharp course of steroids”.
Whether he actually takes it or not is doubtful.When he retires from active service he seriously asks the doctor to tell him “frankly” how many more years he has, so that he can decide whether a commuted pension will be more profitable than a monthly one.
He knows all about nature cures: thankuni pata for amoebiasis (which is usually his only ‘real’ problem), and senna pods for constipation, garlic on an empty stomach (for a host of ailments, including ‘gas’), the value of a daily ration of papaya but doesn’t use them much.... Deep down he hates the idea of being cured.
He likes to be just one hiccup away from death. Mind you much younger people can be great hypochondriacs too, learned or otherwise. I dread hearing about their problems even more.
The writer, a former professor of English at Jadavpur University, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org