Rosalyn D'Mello: The 'organ'ised world of women

I am shocked by how much my experience of womanhood is defined by the presence or absence of a reproductive organ

This issue has sealed my intimacy with so many female friends. Pic/Thinkstock
This issue has sealed my intimacy with so many female friends. Pic/Thinkstock

Last evening I had an hour-long phone conversation with a stra­nger. I was soaking my swollen ankles in warm salted water. I was superbly fatigued. The last three days had been long and full of accumulated fears. The most recent ultrasound had revealed that despite three months of allopathic medication, the fibroid in my uterus hadn't shrunk. In fact, it had grown by 11 per cent. The radiologist was alarmed. When I'd first visited him in April last year, this intra-mural fibroid was just at 3.4x3.2mm. Now it was 6.1x5.7cm. It had come to this - debating the merits of surgery, a laparoscopic myomectomy, or continuing with the Fibristal medication that has had its own side effects, hair loss included. This worrying health condition coupled with deadlines on important stories I was greatly invested in has been a source of immense stress.

As I immersed my feet in water, I decided to call back this friend of one of my best friends, Bhuvana, who believed in the benefits of alternative medicine. She had received treatm­ent from the Tibetan doctor I had visited earlier in the evening, and I was seeking her testimonial about its efficacy. She drew my attention to a detail I had forgotten about the first thing Dr Dolkar did after going through my reports and seeing for herself how this fibroid had a better trajectory than my writing career. She made me extend my hand across the desk of her dispensary whose walls were lined with Tibetan paraphernalia, pictures of the Dalai Lama, thankas, and other such objects. There was this medicinal scent that hung in the air, emanating perhaps from the slew of wooden cabinets in the waiting room, each of which held herbal concoctions made by her from ingredients she is known to source directly from the Himalayas. Dr Dolkar, an elegant Tibetan woman, placed two fingers first on my left wrist, then on my right, closed her eyes and examined my pulse.

The woman on the phone, a trai­ned reflexologist and acupuncturist, told me that was Dr Dolkar's most essential strategy. Having never really surrendered to alternative healing before, I wasn't aware of this form of divining. Not known to be chatty, Dr Dolkar matter-of-factly asked whe­ther I was vegetarian or non-vegetarian. I anticipated a sermon about the merits of the former lifestyle, but she simply wrote down on a small post-it sized paper three items I should incorporate in my diet: fish, bamboo shoot and seaweed. "Avoid chicken entirely," she told me. When I asked why, she spoke concisely about the conditions in which most chickens are raised, hinting at the hormonal injections many are given. Any form of processed sugar was also to be avoided. She wrote down a prescription, and when I was leaving offered a single-sentence counsel. Unless the whole uterus was being removed, surgery was pointless because fibro­ids could resurface.

At the counter outside, the two Tibetan and one old Indian staff members assembled a month's worth of medication, a packet of what look like dried leaves, and about five other packets of differently sized black round balls with instructions about when they were to be consumed.

Between Jeena, the woman on the phone, and another writer friend I'd met earlier in the evening at a book launch, I learned so much about how our menstrual health has been so compromised because of the ambig­uous nature of the food we consume, about how milk and eggs can't be trusted, about how processed sugar is omnipresent, and how things like fibroids are symptomatic of these ensuing imbalances. Janice Pariat, my writer friend, also empathised with me when I told her about the distress one feels when a decision you've made about not wanting to conceive ever is suddenly the source of consternation because you are made aware of the fact that the element of choice incumbent to your decision may no longer be available.

Although I hate to think of womanhood being qualified by the presence or absence of a reproductive organ, I am shocked by how much my experience of womanhood is defined by it. This gynaecological issue has also sealed my intimacy with so many female friends, all of whom not just sympathise, but offer to accompany me on doctor's visits and to take care of me should I ever need the help, they range from professional contacts, like my editors, to mere acquaintances. My biggest lesson so far has been to invest in a supportive feminist network of int­er­dependence. Aditi Rao, a poet friend who has been suffering from chronic illness since she was six, put it beautifully in her piece, "A Feminist Guide to Illness": "It was only once I began exploring feminism in its nuance and depth that I realised that this 'go far, go it alone, no matter what it takes' attitude is deeply patriarchal."

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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