That’s how I wake up every single morning. A soft, forced sound that uncontrollably exits my throat and nostrils. It has been my prologue since summer of 1988. Slow rain on a still, damp morning or the smell of nearly-melted butter that I know will drizzle any second from the toast are beauties that have dismally been interrupted by the interlude of sneezes each morning. Like an old bathing shower that spurts intermittently before gushing out in full force, my spell takes its own sweet time, gradually picks up speed before suddenly stopping. And then, I can finally think of moving on with my day.
On most mornings, my sneezes are unruly, and only once in a while do they behave. But they’re there. Always there. In the seventh grade, I would consistently get thrown out of class by my vexed English teacher for my disturbing nasal showers. Sometimes they’d be so loud, I’d have to suck in my breath and control the sudden eruption. All that build-up made me feel like Aunt Marge from Harry Potter, waiting to inflate, fly away and probably burst in fleshy shards.
Nobody could hear Mrs. Bannerjee talk, and there would be an invariable pause until I was done with my embarrassing cameo. Impatient classmates religiously turned to watch my routine stint. Sometimes in wonder and sometimes in annoyance. Mine was a standard helpless look. Often I excitedly raised my hand and stood up from my seat to answer a question she asked and I instead took the liberty to respond with my special powers. Mrs Bannerjee’s vexation over my involuntary sneezing still beats me and her frustrated face occasionally haunts me when I sneeze in social gatherings. Asking to leave class was as customary as my sneezes itself — like painful protocol followed by government employees at the Indiranagar Bescom office.
After a point, I had started to just walk myself out and save everyone the trouble. I think it made Mrs. Bannerjee beam from the inside, but her raw, vacant facade left me guessing. Teary-eyed and always sniffing, I tried my best to not let my inner waters cascade dirtily on to the white shirt of my school uniform, as I hung my head low and hurried out.
My mother optimistically took me to every doctor absolutely anybody recommended. Homeopathy, allopathy, ayurveda, steroids — by the time I was thirteen I had tried everything. After seeing my sorry situation, one of my mother’s friends even suggested that I should go see a tantrik baba, or a shaman of some sort and wear some weird stones and necklaces. I’m glad my mother didn’t even consider it because Science, bitch.
My father has genetically passed on his condition to me, and over the years we’ve bonded over sneezing. We’ve even had Who’s The Louder Sneezer competitions, where my mother would unflinchingly declare my father the winner to embarrass him. We found common ground in our addiction to Actifed, a magic pill that became our life saviour, our best friend, our everything. Our compulsive pill-popping habit threw us in a dreamy twirl, and within fifteen minutes, we’d hit the glorious bed for twelve straight hours. The next morning would a breeze, and a few days later, we’d restart with a clean slate. For years, we found rhapsody in the over-the-counter drug and immaturely blessed the generous souls at Burroughs Wellcome & Co.
Our lives were suddenly shattered when the bloody pill got banned, and changed existence as we knew it. Through the years, sneezing has become part of my identity. Unlike my ex boyfriends, this one has loyally stuck around.
In the summer of 2013, I had come back to office after a three-week forced vacation, and within half an hour of settling at my desk, thinking about how much I’d missed work and hovering nonchalantly over my endless pending e-mails on my two large Dell computer screens, about five of my colleagues sent me instant messages on the Reuters Messenger. Disturbed from my thoughts, I squirmed in my chair before acknowledging the incessant pinging. “Bless you, welcome back!” and “Oh, you’re back. God bless you!” My sneezes were as dependable as the morning piss.
At another company, while discussing marketing strategies around fashion content, my bout began without warning. My boss turned the other way and went “Ow”. I had done the dreaded; I had sneezed into his face, and specifically inside his eye. I would think it was the (un)lucky precision of an amateur shooter aiming his pistol at a human head a mile away, and actually knocking his target over. Dismissing my embarrassment, I decided I must’ve been a ninja, for that rare second. Soon the HR department bountifully put a no-limit access to tissue boxes. This was a huge upgrade in my life, considering I was using cheap toilet paper rolls.
That evening, as I sat at my desk, relentlessly sneezing into my unlimited supply of white comfort, I realised that running out of tissues is my single biggest fear in life. I am consumed by the process, and although I cannot alone alter my deplorable surroundings contaminated with dust, pollution and pollen, I must find happiness in the trivialities of a box of clean, white, soft, fresh tissues. Just when I’m about to sneeze!
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