AWAKENINGS

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Therapy Restores Hope for Amanda

Thursday, May 8, 2008–Grey Poupon Anyone?

All I Ever Wanted to Know I Learned in a Delhi Taxi

As I grasped the roof of the tiny black minivan to lever my torso inside, my hand sunk into a mushy seedy something that had the texture of honey Dijon mustard.  As I peeled my fingers away from the goo, my instincts made me take a whiff.  My lip curled and my throat gagged.  Grey Poupon it was not.  Conscious that my actions were being monitored by four Indian men, I didn’t want to come across as an American Prissy.  I subsequently wiped my fingers on the side door and climbed into the seat.  India…it’s just India I thought to myself.  I dared not touch a body part as my mind swept back to Gabrielle’s mantra:  “The only thing you should touch in India is yourself!” Secretly in the shadow of the taxi driver, I wiped my fingers clean on the seat.

Mental check:  Bring antibacterial hand sanitizer wherever you go in India.

Following is my best effort to explain how I was injured and became a paraplegic to my taxi driver, who spoke just enough English…while I spat out just a few words in Hindi to get by:

“Namaste.  Aapka naam kya hai?”  I politely ask. 

“Aaaah, you speakin’ Hindi?”

“Ney,neh, naheen….Just a little,” I exclaim.

“My naam Subhash.  You Australia?”

“Yes, but no.  Living America now.”

“Mummy USA kahaan hai?”

“No, my Mummy Australia.  I was in Australia but now in America.”

“Mummy kahaan hai?”  This taxi driver recollects that he travelled once before with my Mum and me during a previous visit to Delhi.  Can I say…small world?

“My Mummy Australia.”

A question mark appears on his forehead as he peers at me from the rear vision mirror.  He gives up…and asks, “You car accident?”

“No, skiing accident?”

“You hit car?”

“No, I fell over while skiing.”

“You skiin’ car hit you?”

“No.”  I was thinking, this guy has no clue what skiing is.  “No car involved.  Do you know snow?  Cold, wet, slippery snow?”

“Yes.  Car hurt you?” 

I think to myself:  Aman—dah—remember, every Indian says yes when he means yes, no, or I don’t know. 

“Snow wet like rain but cold—Pani (water)…baraf (ice)…thanda (cold).”

“Achha, Theek hai…. Snnnow.”  A light bulb goes off in his head.  I’m thinkin’ this will be a loooong taxi ride over to the other hospital at Gataum Nagar (which could take a quick five minutes in the western world).  Traffic is at a stand-still with the road workers blasting pavement on either side as they hammer away for the underground Delhi Metro (which won’t be completed until the Commonwealth Games in 2010!).  We’ve gone one block.  Our windows are down…no A/C in this little black putt-putt of a vehicle…and the mercury has already sky-rocketed to a balmy 40 something°C at 9:30 am. I persist with my explanation.

“No car.  Me, sliding on feet on snow.  Flip.  Somersault.  Accident.  Hurt my back.  Legs don’t work.” 

Pause in conversation.  This guy was processing my way-too-much information. 

“Neh car?” he repeats.  He is intrigued that I am injured so severely and a vehicle wasn’t involved.  “Snnnnnow?”  Pause.  “Skiin’ kya hai?” he asks.

“Boards on feet.  Slide on snow.” 

Blank look from my Indian driver.  I’m searching my brain to simplify. 

I continue, “Wood from tree on feet.  Sliding…bahut jaldi (very quickly) baraf (ice). Accident!  Wham! Ouch! Ugh!”  (I’ve resorted to grunting like a cartoon character).  “Back hurt.”

“Achha.  Samajh gaya (I understand),” is what I think he says. 

“Then car hit?” he asks.

At this point I give up and just laugh.  He sighs, takes a deep breath and gives up too knowing that quite obviously I’m messed up and on my way to another hospital.  In the rear vision mirror I can see the pinwheels spinning in his mind.  At this moment we turn a corner from the main street into an even more chaotic side street.  My taxi driver negotiates a cow on our left and dodges rickshaws on our right.  I notice three older women sitting on patterned fabric on the curved pavement stringing saffron marigolds.  They are a canvas of color.  Above their heads on a wire fence is a sign that reads in big bright red capital letters, “GYANAECOLOGIST.  ABORTION BY TABLETS!”  (Mental note:  Hindi misspelling of gynecologist or the British gynaecologist).  Click on image below to enlarge.

Coincidently as if he’s just read my mind, my driver asks me another question,

“Married? Bachha? Children?”

“Naheen, not married.  No children.” I convey with disappointed eyes.

He doesn’t accept my answer.  “Neh married?  Neh children?  Kyon? (why)”.

“I have a boyfriend.  No, not married yet.  I want children.  Someday.”  I look at my driver’s eyes in the mirror.  Way too much info.  Question mark on face.  Even my thoughts become simplified.  I throw it back at him. 

“Family kahaan hai?  Delhi?  Are you married?  Do you have children?”

“Haan.  Family Rajistan.  Ek boy.  Ek girl.” 

“Ah, how often do you see your family?  Ek  haftah? (one week)”, I inquire.

“Ney.  Ek month.  Delhi.  Taxi.  Work.”

My heart sinks.  This guy doesn’t get to see his kids nor his wife for a month at a time.  This is common for most workers in Delhi, with some who might work up to six months at a time before they travel long distances to their families for just a week or two.  I begin to think…man, do I have it easy!  He interrupts my thoughts…

“You ney married? Ney children?”  He inquires yet again as he looks back at me through the mirror.  I shake my head.  He can’t seem to fathom that I’m obviously more than thirty years old and not married, nor have I given birth.  I continue to shake my head in “NO.”  At this point we pull into our destination at Gataum Nagar.  I’m relieved and exhausted.  He exits the cab and proceeds to assemble my wheelchair. 

“Mummy.  Hello.  USA.”  He says as I plonk my body out of the little black van like a sack of potatoes.

“Car accident kharaab (bad)”.  He says one last time.  I choose to nod in agreement.  I surrender.

“Yes, my friend.  It was a bad car accident!”  I wonder if he understood any part of our conversation.   I’ve given up completely.  I smile.

“Shukria.  Namaste.”

“Namaste”.  He replies.  I’ve obviously made his day.  He seems happy, proud, and alert…as I roll off down a back alley toward the older hospital, backpack over my shoulders, bag on my lap and still shaking my head.  Oh, the quirks of India! 

End note:  When riding in tiny black minivans in Delhi, don’t touch the seat.  You’ll never know what you’re sitting in.  “Grey Poupon anyone?”

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3 Comments»

  Tita wrote @

You are hitting milestones and soaring…… It’s a great day for both of us as I became 65 y. today….. my milestone! I am so proud of you! See you soon in Colorado,
Lovingly, Tita

  sarah – Australia wrote @

You are a true inspiration, love your blog and looking forward to watching your journey!

  Kaye wrote @

Hi Amanda, Am reading every little detail of your site because in 3 weeks my daughter and I are off to do exactly what you have done. My daughter had her accident 3 years ago with similar injury only a little higher. Your information is just wonderful although we have contact with other Aussies who have been this is very very helpful. I wish you all the best in your recovery and hope my daughter can have the same success.


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