My first morning in Dalhousie, I woke up with pain shooting up my arm. My wrist was swollen, and there were insect bites on my forearm. When I complained to J, the guesthouse owner, he said that it was nothing a bath with Dettol soap couldn’t cure. He spoke with the confidence of a man who had been through his share of bedbug bites. But I had seen an episode of House M.D. on TV the previous night where the patient had a problem that seemed trivial only for it to worsen to a point where solving it was not trivial at all (no, it wasn’t Lupus) and House and his team of doctors had to pull out their A-game and best anxious faces to save the patient. So I thanked J for his advice and asked him to point me to the nearest doctor.
When I got to Dr. L’s clinic, there was no one there. There didn’t seem to be anyone anywhere, really. On my walk to the clinic, I had mostly encountered monkeys who were thankfully quite indifferent to my presence. Eventually, a short, stout man with a moustache walked in to the clinic.
“Doctor?” I asked.
He nodded and asked me to take a seat.
I showed him my arm. “I’ve got bedbug bites.”
He took my wrist and pressed hard with his thumb. I yelped in pain.
“Not bed bug bites,” he said and dropped my wrist. “Inflamed tendon.”
“But these are clearly bed bug bites.”
He looked at me with a patient smile. “Yes, those are bed bug bites.”
“So it’s not an inflamed tendon?”
“No, it is an inflamed tendon. You also have bed bug bites.”
He then rummaged behind his desk and pulled out a bunch of pink, heart-shaped pills. “Take these three times a day.”
“Thanks, Doctor. How much do I owe you?”
As I paid him his very reasonable fees, I thought about the insane $120 bill I had received in the US for a simple splinter removal. You may, at this point, wonder why I went to a doctor to get a splinter removed. I sometimes wonder that myself.
“Thanks again,” I said, shaking Dr. L’s hand. “By the way, is there a name for what I’ve got?”
“Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
Back at the guesthouse, I saw J outside, whacking my blanket with a stick. The bed sheets and pillow covers from my room hung on chairs and tables nearby.
“No bed bugs tonight!” he said with a smile. “But still, it won’t hurt to buy some Dettol soap.”
Over the next couple of hours, the magical heart shaped pills brought down the swelling and the pain, and I went for a walk around town to celebrate. There was heavy fog; the trees looked ghostly and past a few meters, it was all just a white sheet. There were people out and about now. Some were on leisurely walks, some were playing cards. One man was sitting on someone’s roof reading a newspaper.
After some wandering, I stepped into an Internet cafe, a rare sight in Dalhousie. It had been carved out in the back of a restaurant, and I had to jump over a desk to get to the computer, which was covered with dust and running Windows XP. While the computer technically was connected to the internet, the download speed reminded me of the dial-up days where the worst thing you could do as a person was pick up the landline when someone one else in the house was exploring the World Wide Web; the modem would scream into one of your ears, and your sister, whose internet session you had just ended, screamed in the other.
It felt like Dalhousie had progressed a little too slowly over the years, an aspect both charming and romantic, except when trying to check email.
A Return to Himachal (Part 12 of 14)
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