It’s been three whole years since I was gone, almost a year since I came back. Bangalore (Bengaluru, gods, I am not sure how to spell it unless I check online, and I cannot be bothered. I like it Anglicised, I’ve always liked it Anglicised, a little unpatriotic betrayal I cling to, sometimes, because rebellion is fun [!]) is a warm blanket against my skin (on show because my Tesco-bought shirt, lovely as it is, is cut a bit deep for India, I’m going to be assaulted on the street and my mother will say I told you so dammit) as I walk into BKF, now renamed NU.
NU has been given a ruthless makeover, and if I ignore the tidy rows of seats for waiting patients (I don’t, I never do, they can’t see it but I’m just like them, only it’s me, not my kidneys) it’s like I’m walking into an office, for a job, maybe, that I’m definitely unqualified for professionally, academically and socially. The receptionist is seated behind thick glass that matches, in spirit if not in colour, the shiny antiseptic grey floors.
Six months, heavy sunlight, sleeping pills, a wedding, a psychiatrist, a therapist, a grandmother and a healthy diet have brought my weight up to forty-six kilograms. In Britain I would still be unable to donate blood (the only reason I would not go back to Britain, rebuild my life there), but here I am just about allowed.
The receptionist (so pretty, so adorably pretty and oh look she’s married, that mangal sutra looks shiny new against her smooth skin) smiles at me. “We’ve closed our blood bank,” she says.
What? “What?” I must look as stupid as I sound – the crippling humiliation of it! – because she smiles at me kindly, repeats, “We’ve closed our blood bank.”
“But why?” Surely a hospital that specialises in organ transplants should have a blood bank readily to hand? The receptionist doesn’t know, and why should she.
I walk back out into NU’s sketchy garden, walk out onto the street, staring somewhat gormlessly (I can see me, staring gormlessly while ignoring the hopeful auto-rickshaw driver who’s waiting for me to ask him to take me somewhere) at the shops opposite. They have nothing I want. The heavy meal I ate two hours earlier sits unhappily in my stomach.
Five, four, three years ago BKF’s blood bank, staffed by my dad’s colleagues, would fuss over me, make sure I was heavy enough to donate, bleed me, feed me excellent coffee and send me away with a few extra smiles and a certificate that said I was a noble person.
When I went abroad in 2006, I was, oh, around 48 kg. I’m five-three, and not at all muscular, so while I was definitely out of the running in the Fitness Olympics (or any Olympics!), I didn’t care much either way so long as someone somewhere still loved me. Lots.
While I was there, in foreign climes, far from home, the cold penetrating to my very soul, the clouds sinking closer to my unprotected head etc. et all, yaddi yadda – while I was there, I began a carefully unplanned campaign of avoiding people, falling ill every so often, being late to class, and trying to find out how I could donate blood.
Unfortunately, these specific Foreign People were built on a larger scale than the average Indian, and had a correspondingly higher minimum weight requirement. To Donate Blood Abroad, I would need to weigh more than fifty kg.
Fifty fucking kilograms? How was I supposed to gain that much weight without going through a light regimen of muscle building? Obviously, I was doomed to bleed only from naturally-constructed orifices for the rest of my natural life. Woe! Alack!
More seriously, I had been donating blood for around two to three years, and I had become accustomed to the idea that I was doing something useful, something valuable, something anonymous for society. I had spent the last two or so years not dieting, realising that I liked my body as-is, and most importantly, I had learned that sometimes good deeds were investment-light. Giving blood took somewhere around half an hour (it’s been a while, so give or take ten). I lay down for most of the procedure. I ate good food an hour or two beforehand, and the donation centre fed me coffee and biscuits after. They would also give me – I kid you not, it was awesome – a certificate, thanking me for my “Noble Gesture”. I might be a raving bitch most hours of the day and night, but for that half an hour, I was a Noble Girl, who made Noble Gestures.
Suddenly deprived of the quick fix-it to my many insecurities, I felt a bit adrift. I’m making neither correlation nor causation here, but two years passed, and then I went back home and was diagnosed with clinical depression.
This is not a post about clinical depression, so suffice it to say: while I was ill and as-yet undiagnosed, I lost a lot of weight. I looked terrible (yes, it matters) and I felt worse. I was way below the 45 kg minimum requirement for donating blood in India. Fortunately, my mum, dad and grandma made up an elite feeding force, and in time I was pushing 45 kg, give or take a kg depending on whatever it is that makes weight swing like that. While I found it difficult to eat in anything approximating to a schedule, or in amounts that would do anything but keep me alive at safe nutrition levels, I did fantasise about giving blood again. I thought: hey, it’ll be a good deed. I’ll be a good person if I bleed for strangers. I’ll get a certificate! And since only healthy people donate blood, if I donate blood, obviously I’ll be healthy!
That’s when I discovered that my old centre had closed.
My weight seems to swing around 44 kg these days, and I’ve not yet found a centre I feel quite comfortable with (yes, this matters too), so currently I’m somewhat like Lancelot on the quest for the Grail – no one, including myself, will let me in.
But I was thinking about it today, in a park of some description, instead of reading The Trotter-Nama like I’d planned. Over the next few months, I decided, I would:
- Look to gaining a little weight
- Find a place to go to regularly donate blood, assuming all else is well
- Repost here some old personal essays about donating blood.
The longish quote at the start of this post is an extract from a much longer (and much whinier) piece, written somewhere in 2009.