I am sitting in my dermatologist’s clinic on my second visit here. The first was quite unusual but I continued nonetheless. Last time, I had waited 10 minutes and after paying 2% extra in fees (because I wanted to pay by card). I was asked to fill a form and then go see the doctor. I walked into the doctor’s office and the doctor magically knew my name and welcomed me into a big, well decorated room. Her clinic was covered in sophisticated curated artwork, the furniture didn’t clash with it – such elegance. She asked me to sit down on the stool next to her and being awkward as I am, I fumbled and asked “Which one?”. There was only one. She said “I can already see the problem. So, how are you?”. I was just surprised because you know, who asks you that any more? C’mon. Cure me, let’s go! What is this chit-chat and asking me of my well-being. And in the few seconds I wasted being quiet and thinking all this, she lost her patience and continued “Sit down. Look left, look right. No, don’t turn your entire body! Look left!”.
Yeah, even I can’t believe I have any friends.
She then went on to explain to me in detailed scientific diagrams, of what was wrong with me. She told me what she was going to do for me and what the other doctors would suggest instead. Her idea was obviously better. Obviously. C’mon. Then she said “You also have dark body hair, you might want to get a laser treatment later in life.” I said “No, I am ok with having body hair.” I was not pushing an agenda, seriously. I was so scared of being told I was misbehaving and being beaten with a stick, that I could not have functioned intelligently enough to push an agenda. She continued “But you will have to when you get married.” I said, “Yeah, but it’s OK.” She said, “Not if you want to be with a man.”
So I was looking forward to our interaction today. I was already scared of being told I had not been following the regimen properly, I just sat quietly when asked to wait longer than 10 minutes. I am now paying more attention to the waiting room. The art work and décor had fascinated me last time, but this time I am noticing all the different treatments and medical advertisements that are plastered everywhere on the walls. I notice that they are present in practically every vertical space where there is no art work. And there seem to be more treatment magazines this time than lifestyle magazines on the table. I am reading details of some of these treatments. It is ridiculous! There is especially this one poster which really disturbs me. It is of a woman’s face with a pointer line on every possible inch of her face, and name of a treatment next to it. I again insist, I am not pushing an agenda. I was brought up never really feeling great about myself and in life, somehow from very early on, looking good was not on my mind. I understood grooming, being neat, presentable. But I never understood this idea of being woman like. And I was often told how much I was not at all woman like. It can get pretty nasty when you are a child sometimes. I was asked to grow out my hair, like all girls should. So today seeing these posters and magazines about hair transplants (with really graphic photos) is very strange to me. There is a brochure of a “DNA Specialised Skincare” clinic somewhere in Gurgaon. It even makes the mistake of including some general prices for treatments and consultation. I didn’t make the mistake of looking at that. Ok, I did. It was not pleasurable.
But I did make the mistake of telling my doctor that I might be leaving the city soon. “Why?” “My company might transfer me elsewhere.” She said “Oh well! Then we should get the laser treatment done for your face.” as she proceeded to write an equally long and expensive prescription as last time. “But I don’t have hair on my face.” I said, in a very worried voice. Do I? I mean I do, a little. But can people SEE it?! She said, “Oh it is not for hair removal! This is to even out your skin in a few areas. But we only have to do it for a very small area..” She grabs my chin and calls one of her staff, “Look at this. Tell her the pricing for our laser treatment, show her the photos from our previous cases. Her case is not that bad so we will not charge her very high. Why don’t you (looking at me now) go with her and she will explain everything to you?” I said OK and followed the staff member. She proceeded to explain to me the treatment while turning the pages of a photo album of previous cases to prove how effective the treatment has been for others. Then she wrote down the price of the treatment for me on a piece of paper. I asked “Is this for the whole treatment?” She said, “Oh no, this is per sitting. The treatment requires 2-3 seating a month, for 3 months.” I said, again, simply reacting to this information, “But that’s 20-30% of my monthly salary. Oh, and, damn. I earn a lot.” This made me realise how expensive it was to look good. But there were so many people in this photo album. If everyone was her patient, with an average of this amount per patient, my god. How much money do people have? Am I poor? No, c’mon, I know I am not. I know from the times I have worked in the dirty streets of Delhi, which everyone seems to forget when they talk about how clean Delhi is. There used to be men working for me who used to earn 10% of what I earn in a month and they ran entire families. They travelled from Meerut to Delhi everyday to be able to earn that 10%. They worked the entire day in the sun to be able to earn that 10%. They all looked good to me. They dressed so well, really. Always proper and clean. They had better phones than I did! They were on Facebook sending me awkward requests which I am never going to accept. They were graduates! They could read and write English, though not speak it as well. They were all young. Oh no, I am older now. They were younger than me a lot of the times or my age. So, how did they look so good even at 10%? Wow. I really need this treatment. I must be an ugly duckling!
So I tell the staff, “You know, give me a call tomorrow and ask me about it.” That, was her suggestion. I couldn’t have thought of anything so smart at this point. She is handing me a few medicines and documents in a file. There is a girl who had just come in, asking for a facial. The girl is disappointed because the facial she wanted is not available today. But there is another one, slightly more expensive but equally effective. I exit quickly. You can see the giant face poster as you leave. You should close your eyes and mutter a prayer. I come out of the clinic to realise it’s dark outside. You never know, inside these closed, boxed Delhi buildings built to last summers and people. I am trying to call a cycle-rickshaw guy. There is a thin, small guy who sees my extended hand and approaches. As he comes closer, I realise he is a boy. I tell him where I need to go. As I sit down, I wonder if I should be pulling his weight instead. What a skinny boy. And why isn’t he wearing good clothes? I have always noticed these cycle-rickshaw guys dressed in ragged dirty shirts and pants. I mean, honestly, there is not one area in Delhi where an internal market does not exist. And some of these famous markets have infinite number of clothes being sold at a unimaginably unreasonable prices. My god! I am glad clothes are manufactured by machines, otherwise can you even imagine being paid for a shirt as much it costs in Delhi?! Maybe the ragged clothing is for when they are pulling the rickshaw. It is so hot and dirty outside. I wouldn’t want to be outside in good clothes. There is a valid reason Delhi’s urban have at least 2 cars per family. You can’t really live in Delhi but you gotta go places, you know?
The rickshaw guy is trying to take a turn but there is a jam. I can’t tell what is happening. We are waiting. I crane my neck to see that someone has parked their car on the road while they are buying a pack of cigarettes. I look at my phone, it’s late. As the crowd waits for the guy to finish buying cigarettes, I realise we are parked behind a very old car throwing up fumes in my face. I try to protect myself. This is the reason I went to a dermatologist in the first place! My skin was reacting to dirt and pollution! How can one always be in a car?! Oh well. The guy is done buying cigarettes, we are moving. Thank god! I am holding on tight to the iron bars of the rickshaw. One time I bumped my head so hard on the bars above, on a bad road, that it bled a little. I have enough head issues for this type of thing to happen regularly. We have almost reached home when I spot a DC sports car. Gosh! In my neighbourhood? I live in a very modest neighbourhood. We have families and racism here. Where did this custom designed sports car come from? I must really be poor. I pay the cycle-rickshaw guy 0.02% of what I earn in a month as I mull over who that car belongs to. Maybe it is the man who lives above me. He seems like a person who would want to own such a car. Oh no! It is the guys in the basement. It has to be them. Yeah, it is them. Those hobbits have rings and plenty other things.
I am home and after climbing three floors, I am out of breath. Today was such a tiring day. I started out quite early, the metro was sort of empty. But I had to stand throughout and I was wearing heels. So you know, my legs are now getting tired. As I unlock the door, my friend messages me, “Hey how are you?” My god. I am fine people! Stop this concern right away! I message him back. He is nearby. I haven’t been out for a few days now, I want to go out. I tell him “Let’s meet!”. We go to a bar very close to my home. I am looking at the drinking menu and thinking I shouldn’t be spending so much if I want that treatment. Fuck that. I am never picking the doctor’s calls again.
As we drink and talk about our lives and people in it, I ask him about his family. He was born in Delhi so his entire family has always been here. He tells me about a recent trip he had taken with his family. All the relatives had joined. I realise, despite having taken time out from work to go out and see Delhi, there is so little I have seen! My god! I am probably leaving Delhi in a month! I haven’t been to Chandani Chowk! Is there a greater blasphemy to not go to the only place in the world where you can taste the best of North Indian food? And every night I end up ordering from Defence Colony! How can I miss out on trying the most delicious, rich food in North India and just settling for the pedestrian food from Defence Colony? I mean c’mon! Their food is good but I am sure it is not Chandani Chowk good! Hey! We live in a world where it is not good enough for food to be just edible! Who wants that shit?
I am truly enchanted by my friend’s tales of his family vacations. He tells me his childhood stories in Delhi. How he has all these friends who are still in Delhi. How they spend every weekend together, friends, family. I feel slightly sad at this point. I am realising it gets lonely sometimes. But I smile away to the magic in these stories. There is so much history and intricacy in Delhi. It is so difficult to sometimes grasp that everything I read in the papers is happening somewhere near me. I have met people my age who work in the Supreme Court! Who is allowed to work in the Supreme Court at my age? I thought they made rules for such kind of things! What age you can do what kinds of things? Oh, at least that is what I was always told. I am pulled back to reality by my friend’s sudden seriousness. We have turned to talk about some crime that had been in the news. It is truly unfortunate. He asks me if I have been OK, if I have felt unsafe. I tell him about how I never go out alone even though I really like to, but that’s ok. I mean where is there to go in Delhi when you are alone?
We are ready to leave, my friend is finishing up.
“You know I love Delhi but I am not proud of it. And we can not improve anything even if we tried. At one end you have the culture of wife beaters. At another, that of wife sellers. Dowry, Sati, Rapes. And at another end we have culture of dacoits who could never get any power. How can anything improve when the worst kind of people have become the richest?”
I hope I leave in a month.