My rule for myself is: do not sneeze or cough when on the phone. This is not because it is impolite—I suppose it is; most involuntary bodily sounds are held to be in western society—but because it awakens the Dormant Doctor (DD) in my interlocutor.
“Sounds like you’ve got a cough?” says DD on the other side.
“Hmm,” I say and then, “Have you heard the latest on…”
But there is no stopping this force of nature.
“When I have a cough—and my goodness gracious, what coughs I have had, they used to rack my entire body; I would have pain in the ribs and back because of my coughing—I take a piece of ginger, you have to scrape it of course, and I pop it in my mouth and go to sleep and in the morning, it’s gone.”
Next call. One more cough bursts through.
“Your throat is bad. This is because you don’t take good care of it.”
“Well, do you gargle every time you come back from the outside? With warm water and salt? And do you vibrate your lips, going BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR, for at least six breaths at a time?”
I confessed that I did not. My next appointment was a face to face. A funny fellow, he made me laugh. The laugh made me cough.
“What are you doing about that cough?”
“Nothing much but when I go to sleep, I’m going to scrape a piece of ginger and pop it into my mouth.”
“That sounds like an idea but do you know what I do? I make kaada.”
I sigh. I must really learn to suppress these involuntary body sounds. The sigh is possibly the rudest.
“Take an equal amount of fennel, cumin, and coriander seeds. Then an inch-long stick of cinnamon and three pods of cardamom. Put in a litre of water and bring it to a boil. Add a piece of ginger. Then let it steep. When you drink it, you can either add honey or rock sugar but that’s… you don’t have diabetes, do you?”
“Oh good. Because that’s the real killer but ever since I got hold of this mug made out of a wood from the Konkan and fill it with water…”
Someone else laughs at the remedy for kaada saying that you have to use milk.
“That’s the whole point: the milk.”
I tell this to the next caller.
“Milk, yes, but haldi and honey, too. You should have it last thing at night.”
Last thing at night is a big thing among DDs.
“Go out right now and get a quarter kilo of gram. Boil it with a little salt and eat it before going to sleep. But do not drink any water after that for the entire night.”
This kind of proscription in a prescription always fills me with the desire to drink water.
“Drink all you want before you eat the gram.”
One of the few remedies that did not involve ingestion was Freny’s.
“You don’t want to wake up in the night coughing. The thing is: you want to sleep. That will let the body heal itself and fight the infection. So do what I do. Rub Vicks on your feet and put on a pair of socks. The next morning: cough gone.”
Gone. Gone. Gone. The very word is like a cough.
“Go to the doctor,” says another friend, whose own Dormant Doctor is dead because he is a doctor.
“You’re a doctor,” I said and coughed for effect. “Tell me what to do.”
“I just did. Go to your doctor.”
I went to my doctor. He looked at me calmly.
“You will cough for five more days. You can take antibiotics and you will cough for five more days. How do you want to play this?”
“Without,” I said.
“Five hundred rupees, please.”
“Still five hundred.”
At least the DDs are free.
Pinto lives and works in Mumbai where the air is so dirty you can often see it.