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Tuberculosis On The Streets


Ankush showed up a few weeks ago on the footpath near my house. He had been living in Sewri but ...
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Ankush showed up a few weeks ago on the footpath near my house. He had been living in Sewri but had fallen sick so came to this side of the city to be closer to his mother and father who often stay on the roadside around here; a street hardened couple who took longer than anyone else to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be giving them money.

He hasn’t stood out much, lying under the trees, hiding from the midday sun, often wrapped from head to toe in a blanket like you might do to a dead body. After trying to chat to him a couple of times and getting little more than dismissive grunts, I asked his mother what his problem was. “TB” came her blunt reply in the same tone my english teacher used when I asked a question with an obvious answer. At this point I took opportunity to look at Ankush’s arms on the frequent occasions they came out from under his blanket to dig indiscriminately in his nose for what seemed to be a never eventuating booger.

He was skinny. Real skinny.

So today, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I went to check that he had been taking his TB meds only to find that he wouldn’t take anything nor talk to anyone. “He won’t eat any medicine” his mother told me, using her body language to further emphasize that I’m the dumbest person she’s ever met. Her sisters, who had apparently come to commiserate by sitting 20 feet from Ankush (in case they catch what he’s got), guzzled snacks while he lay alone vacantly staring into space, digging for that elusive ball of snot.

Having explained on multiple occasions the importance of Ankush continuing his medication, I figured this might be my chance to convince the whole family that they needed to ensure he takes heed. So when Ankush’s mother dismissively repeated, for the fifth time, that he wouldn’t take anything I blurted out “then he’s dead”.

Its important to clarify that Hindi has a lot of nuance, which, as someone who struggles with languages and never had much nuance myself, I find hard to execute well on. So when I said “then he’s dead” I said it like the vet might tell you that you’re going to have to put down a horse with a broken leg. I had hoped that the urgency of the situation would accordingly be driven home.

His mother gave a smirk in a “now you’re getting the picture, dummy” kind of way. I looked at the aunties sitting cross legged, having not yet relented in their assault on the greasy snacks, then looked over at Ankush, looking pathetic by himself, still vigorously poking his nostrils.

Defeated, I walked over and sat with him.

He just started talking. Not like one of those people who has to talk to fill the silence, but like a kid who hadn’t managed to get a word in sideways in the face of his impending doom. I just listened and tried to understand as he spoke in Marathi, Hindi and random English words.

“I’ve been taking this medicine for three months, it doesn’t work, I feel so sick, I just want to die, I don’t care anymore”, he muttered.
I listened.
“Whats the point, what can anyone do, this is in God’s hands, let me die in peace”.
We sat in silence.
I asked if I could pray with him.
“No, you can’t pray for me, we are different, you and I, we are different”
“God isn’t different”, I countered.
“So pray then”, he said.

I staggered through the kind of bumbling prayer you can imagine you might pray with a skeletal looking kid, having myself just returned from a gym where I go to burn off the excess nutrition that sticks to me. I stopped praying and looked at him.

Ankush stared off at nothing again.

“I’ll take the medicine” he said after a pause.
“Will you really?” I asked.
“Yes” he replied.

By this point Ankush’s aunts have finished the snacks and gathered around to hear what we’re talking about. One of them pipes up; “you can get a mosambi juice from the station, its very good for the body, he should drink that”.
“Ok aunty”, I reply, “That is good juice, but his TB medicine is more important right now”. Everyone nods in agreement.

Please pray for Ankush.


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