12 May, 2021

The Crab Knows The Way

Boundaries and political affiliations crumble at the cancer ward

Illustration by Sorit
The Crab Knows The Way

Here we all are, uniformly bald, with even our eyebrows singed off by chemotherapy. The Babylonian drone of Pashto, Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, Hausa and Kashmiri around me at New Delhi’s Apollo Cancer Clinic contains neither a reciprocal vocabulary, nor a mutual grammar. But the commonality of a deadly illness swells the urge to communicate and blurs formality. Pantomime ensures plenty of conversation.

Amid this, the doctors at the clinic, permanently dressed in green scrubs and Crocs, dash between the operation theatre and clinic. There is empathetic surgical oncologist Sameer Kaul, a Kashmiri Pandit whom all in the tense state—Hindu and Muslim—unanimously hold up as a trophy of ‘Kashmiri’ achievement; and there is his soft-spoken Muslim colleague Feroz Pasha, of the archetypical ‘good bedside manner’.

There is a buzz, the surgeon is in. Dozens of Kashmiris immediately scramble past all other doors in an unruly but concerted beeline for Kaul’s. Animated debate in Kashmiri wafts from the...

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