Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Why Do Children Fall Ill?

I had lunch and finished packing my bags at 3. Then I spent 5 minutes saying goodbye to my roommate which is when I told him that I'm going to North India for a trip. Of course I had to tell him at the last moment, because apparently last month he had gone to the same places I'm going towards the end of this trip. That must give a good idea about how much I talk with people in general.

The railway station is 15 minutes away by walk. And I had to walk. After all, if I miss the 3.30 train there's another at 4. Walking to railway station is important. Once you board the train, you are a different person. And it is this walk that helps me transition. With a large bag on my back containing all clothes and a small bag in my front containing all the books and miscellaneous stuff, people would surely think I'm a seasoned traveler. And that gives me a false confidence.

Maybe I'll be a traveler after this trip. Maybe I won't. That's why I'm going, you see? I'm giving it a fair chance. One month of moving around all over the offline maps I've downloaded should either make me love traveling or hate it. Either way, it will make up a nice activity for this month before my MBBS result is announced.

I didn't miss the 3.30 train. It was a full five minutes after I sat down in the general compartment that the train started moving. It was in those five minutes that this young mother sat in front of me with her son who must be 1 and a half years old judging by his fragile movements and short vocabulary.

When I woke up from my nap at Maddur station, she had just woken the boy up. And the Maddur vade vendors were all over the compartment. She bought one. And so did many others. (Some even bought five of them parcel.) But the boy wanted tea. And the tea vendor had just walked by into the next compartment. There was a coffee vendor around. So she bought a cup of coffee. She asked for another cup, an empty one to pour the hot coffee back and forth and make it tepid. But the coffee vendor wouldn't give her one.

Why would he? The number of coffees he can sell is limited by the number of coffee cups he has. One cup less is one coffee less sold. That is why he told the men surrounding the lady who asked him repeatedly to give her an empty cup this: "What will happen if I give a cup? Nothing will happen. Nothing will happen to you people who talk. It is I who sell the coffee. Those who talk can keep talking. I have to sell my coffee"

The old lady next to me gave her a small steel cup. And then everyone started talking. Everyone except me and another lady in the corner near the window.

The boy's father had gone to Bangalore in the morning, with their two-month old child, after a fight. And she was going to get the child back from her husband's house in Bangalore. She only vaguely remembers where his house is. But she knows for sure that her mother in law and sister in law can't take care of her child like she can. And that is why she was on train with this stubborn boy who threw half the vade down and would not drink the coffee either, instead choosing to cry and flutter his legs incessantly.

Everyone around was trying to distract their mind from her story by trying their best to stop the boy from whining. But of course they could not. The old lady gave them some tomato rice she had and the middle aged lady a chappathi, knowing very well that the boy wouldn't eat but the mother should. The men could not refrain from giving advice, "You should be humble and not create a reason for a fight." They themselves admit, "Of course, he drinks as alcohol all that he earns as a PWD worker and alcoholics don't need any reason for starting a fight." Yet they want her to change her ways.

They want her to go live with her husband in his house. To work in nearby houses. Earn some money. Buy a small house in Mysore. And by then the kids would be grown up so it won't matter how her husband behaves with her.

I didn't speak a word. What can I, a feminist, a social media activist, and a future health care worker, tell her?

When she was talking she mentioned that she had given a bottle of milk to her husband that morning. Probably so he would feed the child at least.

They say bottle feeding is bad for infants. So, in a few weeks this child might end up with diarrhea in the pediatrics ward of Bangalore Medical College. And the third year students there will ask her "Why did you feed the child with bottle?" And she might choose not to tell them the story of how children fall ill.

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