It was 1st Jan and like an irresponsible child I mentioned to my parents the need to see a dentist. One day before my flight. One whole day after I arrived. There was a debate on whose dentist is better, Dad or Mom’s. Mom pushed hard for her guy while Dad stayed quiet. I had enough of bad dentists in Mumbai and wanted to see a good one. The appointment was taken for 5 pm. At 4:45 pm, Dad called from downstairs.
Yes, people. In small towns, one lives in big houses which have an upstairs and downstairs and those are connected by actual phones. The ground floor is Dad’s hospital. Not a clinic. An actual, fully equipped hospital. The 1st floor has more hospital rooms and an empty section has been rented (sold?) out to another doctor for his HOSPITAL (not clinic). The 2nd floor is where the house begins. The 3rd floor is the terrace converted into 3 rooms when marriage was on the cards for my sister and the 4th floor is the terrace. I am not boasting. As someone who has spent a considerable amount of her independent life in a 1bhk and the current 1900 sq feet flat seems really, really huge in comparison; am in awe that people can still live this lavishly
I use my phone’s hotspot to connect to Netflix on the TV. My parents are the last, loyal customers of BSNL. Even BSNL is now begging them to switch but dad refuses to give up. Hopefully, my constant praises of Airtel broadband means this is the last month for BSNL in that house.
Airtel, I demand an influencer fee
I turn on Soorma for Mom to watch, change out of my old Zara shrug and put on a newer (=worn less but bought around the same time) Zara cardigan because Mom criticised it. This is a habit that has been inherited. I critic KC’s clothes and make sure he is well dressed at all times. And when he is not, point it out to him. So, no shorts to a mall in Gurgaon unless they are classy and stylish. Though in Mumbai, he could wear whatever he wants because the standards are so low. Every time I have to remind him “Pretend like we will be going back to Gurgaon and keep your dressing standards high. Even in Mumbai”. Kolkata is a stylish city so we are trying to up our dressing game after a year of dressing shabbily.
Dad drives me to the dentist, like he drove me to the stadium for a morning run AND waited for me to finish my run. I am escorted everywhere like a spoiled child. My whole life I have craved for independence but in my mid 30s, this treatment makes me feel special. If any other man insisted on doing this for me, it would be very, very irritating and annoying.
The hospital is a Father-son duo practice with 2 other dentists joining them. I had seen the dentist at Raheja hospital in Mahim a few months after my issue started. She didn’t charge me, did some cleaning and gave kindergarten level advice. A month later, I was back and begged her to take money and give me some REAL advice and treatment. But she just smiled and sent me on my way.
This dentist didn’t pull any punches and said “You should get that wisdom tooth extracted”
Me : Ok. I have a flight at 4 pm but can I come early morning tomorrow?
Him : Sure
Dad : Why tomorrow? Get it done now.
Me : Wait. Hold on. I don’t even have my phone with me. (Priorities!!!)
Dad : You will board a flight few hours after a surgery tomorrow. Better to get it done now and have a whole night to recuperate. Or are your afraid?
(Nobody can manipulate you like your parents. Sometimes, knowingly. In this case, unknowingly).
Me : Of course, am not afraid. Bring on the needles. Right into my mouth. We are doing this. Right now. Who needs a few hours to mentally prepare? Not me, for sure.
The father called his son and within 15 mins, I was surrounded by 4 people peering into my mouth. I wondered what it would have been like to become a dentist. Dad’s hospital could have been converted into my practice. There would be no taxes to pay. A small town with a metro town 75 km away and a lavish lifestyle. I mean, 1.5 hours travel one way in a city like Mumbai is a daily hustle without 1/10th of the perks. This was one of the paths I could have gone down. Because admission into dental with my 12th marks was a real possibility. In fact, admission into medical was a real possibility if I didn’t have principles like not taking admission on donation. Every educated member of my family (less than 5 people) tried to convince me pursue a career in dental. But I had my heart set on journalism. I wanted to study literature and write and be a pauper sharing a flat with 10 other people in a rundown, unsafe building. Was the current life and career better than either of these paths? Is a career more fulfilling looking at unhygienic mouths vs licking dirty asses? There are no clear winners (or losers) in this comparative study.
45 mins later they were done and my wisdom tooth emerged victorious. I saw it lying on the dentist’s tray, all bloody and twisted. Dad was sitting patiently behind. He offered to pay the Father dentist but the money was turned down.
Dad : Please let me pay
Him : No. No. We won’t charge you for the skill. Do you charge for skill when we visit your hospital?
My father is a paediatrician and while he is very good, the amount of effort required for diagnosing and treating a kid doesn’t match up to how much effort the dentist put into the surgery. But he didn’t let my dad pay. And I didn’t want to offer to pay dad back because there is no way he would have let me. He would have laughed instead. “Look at this child of mine, trying to me pay me back peanuts”.
But that is how small towns work. Connections and socialising translates into a barter system which does not involve money. Dad’s free treatment to people of some social standing, relatives, acquaintances translates into my never having to stand in a queue in any government office. We get escorted to the front of the queue during voting, we sit in the AC office of the RTO guy while my driving license gets renewed etc etc. Money isn’t everything here. Our caste, religion, education, connections, social standing along with wealth is our identity. Sure, my Dad was the one who started from scratch (mostly) but his caste and religion are inherited. All of his and my mom’s efforts make our lives easier in that state. We could have done what many others do, stayed in this orbit and propelled ourselves forward. But all of us chose to leave and start new, independent lives mostly based on merit, out of reach of our parents’ influence.
On some days, it seems like the stupidest thing we have done.
On other days, not so much.