Falling sick is the most miserable feeling ever. I recently had a nasty bout of cold, along with a sore throat and fever. It wasn’t debilitating in the least, but highly annoying and inconvenient. After spending a whole day in bed, making myself hot tea and soup, fetching medicine, and gargling with salt water (ugh!) – I was sick of being sick, and promptly resumed my daily activities, to hell with the illness.
But while I was complaining about how awful it is to feel sick, and how I’ve always hated it when my body has let me down, I realized that this wasn’t exactly true. Illness is only horrid when you’re a strong, independent woman living alone, and have nobody to fuss over you, plump your pillows, and feed you soup. Sure, I have people who’d fuss over me over text and chat, but unfortunately almost all of them are far away. The worst part of being sick isn’t the illness itself, but the fact that you’re in charge of dealing with it, treating it, and fixing it. Nobody else will set up your doctor’s appointments. Nobody else will check your temperature every few hours. Nobody will ruffle your hair and bring you hot khichadi from the kitchen, unless you specifically decide to swallow your pride and ask your friends to come over and babysit you. Being a sick adult is horrid, however – as far as I can recall, being a sick child was rather enjoyable. My memories might be tinged with nostalgia, but childhood sicknesses always seemed to involve happy events such as getting time off from school, and being taken care of by mom.
One of my fondest memories of being sick is from the summer of 2002. I’d just finished class 6, and was all set to enjoy my two-month-long summer vacation. Two whole months of lazy afternoons in front of the water cooler, eating juicy mangoes, reading a ton of books, and playing Boggle with my friends. This particular summer was made even more thrilling by the fact that two of my favorite cousins were coming over to stay. My kid brother and I were wildly excited. When our visitors finally arrived, we made a happy foursome – Kiddo and I, and both cousins. One of the cousins was a total bookworm, and she and I engaged in friendly competition to read the maximum number of books per day. We drove my parents nuts by talking about Harry Potter day in and day out – after a point we were banned from talking any more about it. Our creative workaround was coming up with a whole lexicon of code words for every single character, location and event at Hogwarts (yes, my Pottermania started quite early). The other, more gregarious cousin, got along fantastically well with Kiddo, who was just 6 years old at that point. Together, we all laughed and teased, took turns at playing non-stop RoadRash on the computer, went to parks, and even had a midnight feast in the middle of the night, Enid Blyton-style, which was super fun to do in secret, but in retrospect I’m fairly sure my parents were aware of all the whispered giggles and clanging of steel utensils in the night!
This idyllic nature of our summer was sorely tested by a sudden and unexpected rash of chicken pox. One of the cousins developed it, presumably after having being exposed to the virus on her train journey, and exactly two weeks after that, my brother and I fell prey to it. The other cousin had enviable immunity, having already had it as a baby. While chicken pox certainly threw a wrench in the proceedings, that summer still went on to be one of the most memorable vacations I have ever had. Yes, the rashes were gross and painful, and quickly transitioned to itchy. Yes, we had to drink a horrible concoction of some herbal remedy, which was supposed to help generate more poxes, and develop lifetime immunity. Yes, we were all quarantined and restricted to the house, and couldn’t see any of our friends. And yes, my poor mother had to take care of sick kid after sick kid all summer. But honestly? For us kids, we had all the companionship we needed, and after the initial fever and shock wore off, we would try to out-compete each other – with who had the weirdest-shaped rashes, and what was the most effective way to lessen the gag reflex after a dose of foul-tasting medicine (crunching a giant spoonful of sugar right after gulping down the medicine seemed to work best).
Eventually my cousin stopped being contagious, and they both left – leaving Kiddo and I alone and still quarantined. Now of course until this point the two of us had gotten along well – we had our occasional brother-sister spats, but were quite fond of each other. However, that month, that summer – was when we transitioned from mere siblings to good friends. Chicken pox left us solely in each other’s company – we couldn’t see any of our friends who were steadily returning from their own vacations at grandparents’ and other assorted relatives’ homes. School wasn’t in session yet, and even if it had, we’d probably have to stay home to prevent infecting our classmates anyway. So it ended up being just Kiddo and I, all day, every day – and it was all kinds of fun. I read out books to him (not surprisingly, a lot of Harry Potter), we played all kinds of games together, and we ended up becoming really close companions. Not to say that we weren’t absolutely thrilled to finally be declared non-contagious, and to get out to see other people – but that was the transition point in our relationship.
Today I consider my brother to be one of my closest friends. He’s an incredibly funny and sarcastic narrator, and our stockpile of inside jokes grows by the day. But aside from all the hilarity, I am routinely surprised at how thoughtful he can be, and at the impassioned discussions we end up having. His perspective and his thoughts are well-articulated, and I sometimes have to do a double-take because all my interactions with him are also superimposed by memories of him as a naughty 3-year old child hiding all my school supplies when I was running late. Kiddo as a child was great, but Kiddo as an adult is pretty awesome as well. This is the one person I have known since the day he was born, and I know that no matter where I am or what I’m doing, he’s got my back – and I’ve got his. Here’s to you, Kiddo – my brother, my confidant, my friend. I’m so proud of you!