Wednesday, December 2, 2015


When Charlie Sheen recently revealed his HIV+ status, a lot of people were not surprised as Sheen was known for being an indulgent casanova.
However the media was abuzz with other cases of celebrities being HIV+ and how Isaac Asimov, Arthur Ash and Freddie Mercury had all died of AIDS.
Well,my knowledge of the disease was only limited to watching movies like Phir Milenge and Philadelphia.
Biology in school had made us aware of the 4 ways in which the virus could be passed on.
AIDS always felt like a distant disease in a distant planet.
     Until, last year when I got married. 
  We had moved in to a new locality and I was desperately seeking a domestic help.
  I asked a few people in the new neighborhood if they could recommend someone who could help me be more productive. Someone who could keep my house spick and span , cook and clean so that I could continue to add value to my work.
   Luckily I got Jharna(name changed) . She was introduced to me by a neighbor and I was indebted to my 
   neighbor for introducing me to someone who is generally a working woman's saviour.. 
  Of course a good maid is solution to half of world's problems. Jharna used to cater to the household chores and when I came home after work I could perch on the couch with a book to read.
   Jharna was the quiet types. She would reach on time in the morning and start off with her work. 
   I told her we were fitness enthusiasts and the food had to be no-oil or low-oil.  
  The tea had to be made with little sugar. 
  She had remarked ," That's the case in most of the houses I see".
   She had said that she would come each day except Sundays. She went to a church on Sunday.
   Though she was a born Hindu she had converted into christianity after her husband's death .
 She said that the parish priest's sermon had given her strength to fight the scourge of poverty and espoused
 her to raise her 4 children. What faith helps you achieve !
  I would manage to speak to her at times . It would entail rudimentary instructions as she was quite capable of understanding setups of the home.
 I had become very attuned to her work and she had become attuned to our home.
  I was driving one day from my office, when I got a call.
  I returned the call and it was from the same neighbour who had introduced me to Jharna
 She was extremely apologetic and she had called me to inform that she had recently come to know from others in the neighborhood.
 Jharna's husband had died of AIDS and that Jharna had also contracted the virus. 
Every Sunday she would goto the missionaries where she was treated with medicines.
 For a moment I was dumbfounded. To be honest my first reaction was , " What if I get infected? "
Knowing fully well that the disease was not contagious / infectious I still had goosebumps. Jharna had been with us for 3 months. 
We had shared the same air space. I started imagining, "What if she coughed and those droplets had the virus?" What if she had been cutting vegetables and her finger got injured while she must have been cooking. What if her sweat was all across the handles of my ladles and food equipments.
I tried to allay my fears and spoke to my husband about it.
His immediate reaction was," How do we help her?, Also how can I be so sure. After all it could be a hearsay"
       I decided to speak to Jharna directly on this one. It would be difficult as my neighbor had warned me that she shouldn't be quoted.
I asked Jharna the reason behind her coughs. She said it was normal cold. I asked if she was suffering from any serious disease and that I could help her.As  I was speaking to her I was scanning her from top to bottom trying to spot lesions that are symptomatic of AIDS but I found none.
Jharna stratight away declined that she suffered from no disease and drew my attention towards her thick hair which was an emblem of good health.
I was stuck to google to know more about the illness and its spread. I came across articles where in the US parents of a 3 year old,were charged a heavy fine just because they fired the baby sitter after coming to know that she was HIV+. My brother who is an avid story buff asked me to watch Dallas Buyers Club to know more about HIV+. I did. After researching a lot on the internet and after consulting a few doctor friends, I decided to continue with Jharna at our house. I had made peace with science and the fact that even if Jharna was HIV+ she would not pass on the virus . When I had narrated this incident to a couple of my friends they were a bit shocked that we were continuing with her. One of them stopped visiting us.
   A few months back Jharna left our home because she got a better paying job as a full time caretaker.
  I wished her all the best and thanked her from within as she made me challenge my conscience ,intellect and moral ground. 
  We live in an age where a lot of stigma is attached to people who are HIV+. What if the simple wife like Jharna  got it from her husband? What if that Jharna's daughter got the virus from her mother? What if the guy travelling in the train seated next to you got it through improper blood transfusion while battling in the war?
The deadly virus only hits you when you come to know of someone in your vicinity battling with it.
Not everyone is famous as Charlie Sheen. Some need our aid to battle it.



Atul Prasad said...

Thanks for writing this Shrill. Many take-aways from this blog.
a) I was reminded of the movie Aankhon-Dekhi , and the importance of verifying facts and information before acting
b) I loved how your husband responded when you spoke about this to him
c) You are going to host me on my next trip to your city.

chetna verma said...

Wonderfully written,soul touching! Keep writing!

Shaswat said...

Loved the subtle touch of humour in such a serious setting :)