Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Blood Hunters

Amuk’s Tamuk has been unwell. I can take a writer’s liberty right now and turn this into another horror story of the health care system in India. This time private and expensive. But I will be kind….

Amuk’s Tamuk has been unwell. He is being given blood. Quite a lot. At least more than any amount of blood being given, I have heard so far about. Ke garne! (What to do - in Nepali). So Amuk has been mobilising people, sometimes with enticements like beer-after-blood, sometimes plain emotional blackmail. Whiskey, fruit juice and KFC treats also feature in the list. The whole process of blood collection has taken the proportion and logistics of an organised underground gang. Such efficient planning and innovations have been executed that Amuk and another friend were actually comtemplating starting a blood bank, as a business enterprise, after collection from one batch of donors.

‘How much will it cost to start a blood bank?’

‘Can we get a bank loan? Will it run?’

'Of course, you have to wait in line to give blood everywhere.’

Now that sounds pretty businesslike huh? Collection, batch, donors?

So the first day, actually night, they said they needed blood, Amuk was alone and found it a bit difficult. First it was at night, so every one of his friends will be drunk. Second, he was planning on getting drunk and stoned, so he needed to reorganise his plans. Thirdly, a lot of transport needed to be organised and he was the only one who would drive. With all his underground connections, Amuk managed to get two Naga friends. And it makes me always squirm in shame each time I see our Naga friends give. They are always giving something or the others to others. And they did not even need a bribe. But that is another political story….

When the blood was being given given to Tamuk, one cousin comes close to Amuk, concerned. He whispers,

“What if Tamuk starts saying - moi bhi gahori khabo (I will also eat pork - in Nagamese)?”

Few more bottles of blood have been collected in the meantime. Amuk is running out of blood group. One friend volunteers. Everyone is relieved and ready to supply the blood to Tamuk immediately. The friend lies down on the donor chair. The doctor ties the tightening strip across his arm and waits for the vein to appear. In vain. Doctor taps, he pinches, he presses, he pumps – nothing appears. Doctor mumbles, 'I have never seen anything like that' and rubs his forehead. Meanwhile Amuk and friend exchange a look and laugh. The doc shifts to the other arm and repeats procedure. Nothing. After 30 minutes doc gives up. Suggestions pour in from all sides including the failed donor –

‘why don’t you cut his wrist?’

‘What about his feet? See, u can see the veins clearly on his feet’

‘can’t you just rip it open a bit, I am sure blood will poor out?’

The doc shakes his head. We give up. Later we get to know that the friend is an ex-pusher. His veins have vanished from the surface.

We call another friend and go fetch him across Guwahti’s traffic nightmare points. When we finally reach the friends quipps – ‘thank god you guys called earlier. Any later and I would have started drinking.’

We arrive and the waiting doctor puts him straight into the collection chair. All kind of scientific enquiry and responses start –

‘he has not tested my blood yet, what if it cannot be given?’ Response: 'No problem. They will give it back if it is bad. You can take it home and make Jadoh' (a Khasi dish of rice and pork blood).

Query to doc: ‘what are the tests you will do? How much blood will you take? Can I take this chair home, watching TV will be nice with it?’

Response from doc: ‘HIV, Hepatitis, HCV and all other. 350 ml, 50 is anti-coagulant. No, the chair is new'.

Response from the side: ‘As much as a bottle of Pepsi. You can drink it back if they don’t take it.’

Query to Amuk: ‘What will you give him to eat?’ Response: ‘Whiskey’.

Response from donor: ‘Isn’t beer better?’

Afterwards, the donor invites to his place for dinner and beer. We replenish and get back to duties. But the blood hunt continues…

Amuk gathers more donor parties. Queries flow in –

‘will they take it even if I am drunk?’

‘What do they do with the blood tests?’

‘Will they tell me?’

‘Can they send me a photocopy?’

‘I hear giving blood is good for you?’

‘Can we sell it for alcohol? How much will we get in beer-case?’ …

Seven more people gather in another batch. Meanwhile rules have slipped from being strictly blood group specific to exchangeable at blood banks. Scientific discussion do not stop–

‘O + can give anyone and AB+ can take anyone’s right?’

No be, its ulta’ (it’s the opposite – in Hinglish).

‘No, no it is not like that any longer. A with A, B with B and like that with everyone.’

‘I am A’, ‘I think I am A too’.

‘No you are B’, ‘no I am B’….

‘Anyone can give blood now’ – Amuk opens up doors of possibilitie to everyone in true mafia style – ‘Also two people need go and give it in the other bank. I already took two from them. We need to give it back.’

The collection continues:

‘one in this bed, other two on those two’.

Protests: ‘can we all go in one bed?’

From the side: ‘I don’t like the doctor. Can you punch him?’

‘Please sign here’ – Doctor.

Question: ‘Can you please tell me what am I signing on?’

Response: ‘you are signing that you have no problem that we are going to test your blood.’

‘Very good. What will you with the report?’ Response: ‘We will not use the blood if it comes positive in any of the tests.’

‘Will you inform me?’ Response: ‘We will inform if you want us to. We have taken your number.’

‘Yes, yes. That will be very good. Can you please write it down on your form? Also can you write down my address? Please send it home.’

Many doctors in blood banks in Guwahati have rubbed foreheads, chins, nose, entire face in the past few days out of irritation, frustration and to block the bombardment of scientific queris. But Amuk have been efficiently and methodically managing the whole operation. The news of his organisational skill has reached people far and wide. He even recievd a call from another corner of Assam the other night – ‘I hear you have become a khoon mafia? (blood mafia - In Hindi)

To which Amuk says – ‘Rah, arobmbho hoise he’. (Wait, it just started - in Assemse).

A side note on a serious note: We still need blood. If you are inspired and want to donate please email me at We have not started charging yet

Monday, May 2, 2011

So, masa? What is the moral of the story?

It is uncanny that last night we decided to watch Tere Bin Laden out of sheer lack of other activities to do. It is a nice film. Intelligently funny. I particularly loved some odd bits like the inability of the Khabri’s assistant to close the umbrella. So there is nothing uncanny in the film itself.

What is however is super uncanny is the fact that I got woken up, early in the morning, by my friends’ daughter with whom we watched the movie last night, to be told that Osama Bin Laden is dead. At first I thought they were joking. I mean the television people were joking. (My friends won’t wake me up to joke, I am sure about that). The friends daughter and I were convinced it is some another hoax and I decided to go back to sleep.

My disbelief however turned soon into annoyance as I opened my facebook page few hours later. Why are all these people reacting to Osama’s death? There is a non-muslim Indian, living somewhere in Africa who is saying Allh-hu-Akbar – Allah is Great. Americans are celebrating his death. Someone is saying this day will become an annual festival for them. Someone is asking what it would mean not to have Osama any more. Yet another is saying it is Twitter which first reported Osama’s death or some such like.

What amuses me is this frivolous social concern that so many people can quickly display through convenient social media. It is also reminding me of a facebook conversation that happened few days back. A popular Bangladeshi singer was organizing a protest against the insult and torture of the Bauls/Phakirs in the hands of the fundamentalist Muslims. They (the Mullahs) cut off the hair and beard of the Bauls saying they (the Balus) are dirty. Now this is not just a classic case of pot calling kettle black but also a classical picture of what organized religion can turn people into. Your own enemy. Soon they will have to cut off their own beard too. Because of lice and chemical reaction from bad hina dye. Anyway, the funny part of the story is that the singer who organized the protest had put out an invitation on facebook asking people to join in the protest. One guy wrote – I am busy and will not be able to come. Can we not instead do something on facebook? ! No, I wanted to write, you cannot organize a protest on facebook. That would not help the Bauls who do not speak English, are poor, have no access to internet and who are right now traumatized from the incident. Your government I am sure does not give a damn about what you are saying on facebook too much either. Besides Bangladesh is not Egypt.

So facebook is increasingly becoming as irritating as making small conversations at all parties in general and ex-pat parties in particular. How much of superficial, forced, frivolous, political awareness and social concern bullshit can you take? However, on a lighter note, Darjee Khandu, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, our beautiful neighbourhood stat,e has been missing since Saturday. He set off on a helicopter from somewhere to somewhere and has been untraceable till today (today is Monday on earth, for the information of non-earthlings). The weather has been rough, very enjoyable on your open terrace but bad for search and rescue operations. In the meantime in Imphal, capital city of Manipur, another one of our neighbours, there has been no electricity for last four days. So when I called up a friend to talk shop, he promptly wanted to know news. When I told him they found Osama and killed him, he fell off the seat. He thought they found Osama, in the North-East, while looking for Darjee Khandu.

There is much I wanted to say about this. I mean about Darjee Khandu’s vanishing act. But already so many people are saying so many things about Osama that I have lost complete interest. However, to take full opportunity of this opportunity that Osama’s brother Obama (or are they the same? I hear when he won the elections couple of years back, people in Kolkata city buses were overheard saying – Osama jiteche!Osama Jiteche! – Osama has won, Osama has won!) has presented to us. How did Osama bother us? The difficulty in getting U.S visa after 9/11 is America’s doing. Not Osama’s. To suspect every South Asian and Middle Eastern as a terrorist is Amrica’s stupidity not Osama’s. And how does his death matter to us? Whether he was Pakistan’s presidential guest or hiding in the kitchen chimney all these years, we still had hundreds killed by Indian military in our own land. And will continue to do so. My only concern with America will be, are they coming for us too? After all we do have some oil and natural gas reserves here on my back yard.

On a serious political note, to rest all of those frenzied with Osama’s death, this is a hoax. Some idiot Pakistani (could be Indian) along with some not-so-bright American (isn’t that all of them?) has made this fake video. They have in the meantime made a lot of money and is still minting it out, while you stay glued to the TV for important details like whether it was a man or a woman who killed it (I hear, the Hijra population in Pakistand is sizable as well).

On our Darjee Khandu part, jokes are flying about cruelly as his family awaits his safe return with flower bouquets in their hands at the airport (they must change the flowers, otherwise they will smell). According to my brother who is a science fiction and supernaturals enthusiast – the Chinese have abducted Darjee Khandu. They will open his skull and insert some chips. This will be a simplistic procedure since there isn’t anything previously existing inside the skull. He then will be sent back to announce to India that Arunachal belongs to China. There will be no outwardly sign of this tiny insertion except that his eyes will flash brightly for a faction of second every second. Now that should not be much worry for any of us either unless you are of course one of those power company people who are planning to make those hundred and something dams in the North-East. In which case, better look out for bright flashing of the eye or in the sky. May all of you die in Pawan Hans (the helicopter service running in the North-East, famous for crashing people to death) helicopter crash while flying to or from the dam sites.

Friday, April 29, 2011


:This story was removed from the blog as it was to be printed elsewhere. Last year, Chimurenga, an African journal (print and online) from Cape Town, South Africa, published the story. Since then I have received a few request to put it up on the blog. This time, it is for Aruni the lovely young writer.


“He is such a typical black man!” – My friends often told me about my lover. My black women friends.

Thandile would not be amused if I told him that. He is not the kind who takes criticism well, even teasing. So I did not tell him. He especially did not like non-blacks talking about black people. Only blacks could make jokes or observations about blacks. Non-blacks commenting on black people are racists. He and his friends referred to non-blacks as whites, Indians and coloureds. And they often told me Indian jokes. Why do Indians not play soccer? Because, if you give them a penalty corner they will open a corner shop

When I first met Thandile, at a bar in Melville, drinking a group of people, I did not notice him individually. They were curious about my whereabouts. Melville is that kind of a place where you have regulars. And in Johannesburg, all Melville goers know each other. My new semi-mongoloid presence, that was not immediately positionable in a racial category, caused curiosity and got me relentless proposals. From black men. They would offer to send my mother lobola, to be my boyfriend or at the least ask me to sleep with them at first meetings. When I was introduced to Thandile, all the men on their table introduced themselves to me. Some made jokingly flirted and hinted sexual interests not too subtly. No one introduced the women. I introduced myself to the women and found out that they were girlfriends, wives and accompanies of the men.

When I was introduced to Thandile, I did not remember his name. In the 2 weeks of being in Johannesburg, African names were still new to me. I also did not remember his face. All black men looked the same to me then. They all had shaved heads. (This of course, I learnt later, holds true for the office going rising middle class men. The artists and the ones that do not have money have dreadlocks.)

In the few months that passed between our introduction and my taking Thandile home one drunken night, I bumped into him and his buddies in the same drinking hole many times. I was also fast becoming a Melville regular. We talked about politics, India and they always cracked some Indian joke for me. During that time I slept with a few men (only black), got proposed by many more and heard a lot about black men from women. From black women. Every black woman I met (from Rosina the receptionist in my office to Mazou who teaches in the university) told me not to trust black men. They cheat and treat women like shit. They are patriarchal, male chauvinists and they do not do household work. They also get women pregnant recklessly and do not take responsibility seriously. The women told me, although that holds true for every black man, South African black men are worse. All I knew about black men was that they are so hot I wanted to fuck them all. So I fucked a few and one or two were not South African. They all turned out to be boring chauvinists. They talked about money and cars and expected me to cook Indian food for them. They also expected me to be monogamous to them while they went on spewing their semen on every woman they saw.

The night I took Thandile home for the first time, I still did not know his name. He told me he was Xosa, with undisguised pride in his voice. I had few Xosa friends and they all seemed to be very proud of their tribe. Mainly because Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki are Xosa. They felt superior to the Zulus, the Sothos, the Vendas, the Pedis and all other tribes in Southern Africa and made degrading jokes about them. They also hung around together in groups where they spoke only in Xosa even when there were non-Xosa speaking people around. When I told Thandile this he laughed and said, “Of course we are superior. We are the ruling tribe, we are the intellectuals of South Africa and Xosa is the most beautiful language in the world.” Thandile speaks no other language but Xosa and English.

I could not ask him his name because I could not let him see that I can not remember African names. And I had already heard him talk about the racist non-blacks who could not pronounce African names. I asked him about South African politics istead. He was passionate when he spoke about the struggle-days and his active participation in the anti-apartheid movement. He was equally passionate in bed. He smiled shyly when I told him he was good and told me about his teenage insecurity about the size of his penis. After he slid out of me and we lied on my narrow single bed on the floor, we got hot discussing whether ANC is becoming too complacent for its own good. He said South Africa does not have an alternative to ANC and it is ANC that will run South Africa. I did not ask how South Africa will ever emerge as a true democracy if a strong opposition does not evolve. Instead I looked at him and thought, ‘politics for pillow talk is such a turn on!’

I found a strand of my hair on his shirt when he was getting ready to leave. I asked him if he was cheating on anyone. The shock and embarrassment on his face gave me the answer moments before he said yes. I told him he needs to be careful because my hair sticks to everything. He laughed a nervous laugh and asked me if he can call me.

When he left I thought how good the sex was, how entertaining it was to be able to talk politics instead of fast cars and how nice it would be to see him again. It did not occur to me that he was a black man and he was cheating on another woman.

He called me the next day and the next day and the next day and told me he wanted to come over so we could get laid. I was busy and he sounded disappointed. I bumped into him in Melville a few days later and he was with his girlfriend. She was visibly pregnant. He said an abrupt hello and did not invite me to join them. When I sat down in another table he went out and called me on the phone. “Listen, I am sorry for being rude. You know I am with my girlfriend.” I told him not to worry and thought ‘how cute of him to call me and tell me sorry.’ The pregnant girlfriend did not bother me at all. I told myself, I am only looking for sex. It’s not like I intend to have a relationship with him. I forgot my girlfriends’ experienced wise words.

When he came over next time, after I rode him with imprudent urgency, he told me his relationship with his girlfriend is not going well. The pregnancy has made breaking up complicated. He also told me he has two more children. With two different women. And he never wanted to have children. I laughed at him and enjoyed his helplessness. I thought about my other male friends who have become fathers unwillingly. I tried to be culturally sensitive and told myself these things are not big deals in South Africa. Almost everybody I know (and I mostly knew black people) seem to have children. Outside of wedlock and more than once. I marvelled at the liberal South African society and admired their lack of belief in marriage. This is the way society should be. Birth is a part of life and it does not have to be bound by marriage or any other contract. Besides he pays for his children. When my girlfriends tried to warn me about him I said – “It’s not his fault.”

In the following months, I fell in love with Thandile. He said he fell in love with me too. He broke off with his girlfriend and I could finally visit him in his place. When I got mugged by two gun holding men, he drove me to the police station the next day and drove me around while I frantically tried to get my stolen passport replaced. We bunked work, met for lunch and made love the whole day. His girlfriend came over to my place and threatened to get me killed by her brothers from Soweto. Thandile told me not to worry; he will always be with me. He made me feel secure in South Africa where you live with constant paranoia of getting hurt. I was dizzy with happiness. I found love in a foreign country.

It was during the months after the first two frenzied months of intense sexual attraction that we fell into a familiar domesticity. Thandile got a promotion in the government and became someone big. The same Thandile who told me I made him dream again, told me I did not have enough ambition in life. I should find a job that pays me much more than working for a small organisation. In the domestic familiarity I also noticed how I was expected to cook every day after we both came back from office. I saw how Thandile expected me to cook and go back to my place on the days when there was a rugby or football match, so that he could watch it with his brothers and pick me up later on. Once at a night club when I tried to join a group of black girls gyrating their gracious hips away, he told me, “Do not even try it. Only black women can move like this.”

The same Thandile who felt embarrassed about saying he worked for the government revenue department before, now talked about how close he was getting to the commissioner and how the whites did not like it at all. We no longer had philosophical conversations. We did not read poetry anymore. And if I complained about any of this, it was because I was bored with my life. Of course I was bored! I did not like team sports, organisational politics, ambitious people and I was so busy cooking for him and his brothers that I had not met my girlfriends in a long time.

When I met my girlfriends the next time, I told them about how Thandile’s brothers would come over to his house with women they picked up from bars, parties, office. They could not take them home because they had girlfriends and wives at home. When I asked him about it he said it was none of my business and I wondered if he would do the same. When I wondered to my girlfriends they said, “Yes he would. Because he is a black man.” We still had good sex. And I became dependent on this boring familiar domesticity.

And it was in these months of domesticity of our year long relationship that I cheated on him. I slept with a woman I had met at a party and he found out from a Melville friend the next day. He was furious. I was sorry. He said he trusted me completely and had opened out his heart to me. I felt guilty for betraying his trust. I felt bad about ruining a good relationship and I was scared of losing him. I said sorry and said I was drunk and angry with him and was not thinking. I told him I loved him truly and that I would never do it again. I reminded him that from the beginning of our relationship I had made no promise of monogamy. He said he thought my not agreeing to monogamy did not mean I will actually go and fuck around. I told him he has cheated on people too. He told me he cheated only when his relationships went sour. He told me I should have been honest. I told him I did not get the time.

We did not see each other for few days. I mopped and I do not know what he did.

He called me the next week and asked if he could pick me up. I said yes and we had sex in the car. I asked him if he wanted to get back and he said yes. I asked him if he still loved me and he said yes. When he was going on a holiday to Cape Town the next week I asked him if he wanted to carry condoms in case he wants to have sex there. He was furious once again. He told me unlike me, he does not look for sex all the time. I said sorry and we fell into the familiar routine again. Cooking, sex, revenue department politics, rugby matches and weekend drinking.

That Friday night Thandile did not turn up after his late office meeting. He did not answer my calls. Worried sick that he was dead I went over to his place the next morning. He was with another woman. He had picked her up from the party he went to after his meeting. He did not know if he was going to tell me. All his love for me had already vanished when he found out about my cheating. He was just seeing me because I was available.

In the harsh cold days of the winter that followed I cried over another broken relationship. I felt he was not wrong in cheating on me as I had already cheated on him. I wanted to call him and ask him to come back, until my girlfriends did an unnecessary and thorough post-mortem of my relationship. They told me – “Fuck him. He is just a typical black man”. This time I told Thandile and he was not amused. He said –“You are a fucking racist.”