(Published in Business Standard on April 5, 2014)
So there I was at dinner a couple of weeks ago, with a glass of whisky in one hand and no cigarette in the other. I haven’t smoked in almost eight months, because my niece has spent more than half of her little life trying to get me to quit, and I feel that it is now important to let her focus on breaking into a schoolroom at night and setting up sandbags around a desk of her choice, which, according to Delhi’s parents, is the only way a kid can get into school.
Anyway there I was, just being socially maladjusted, minding my own business, when suddenly my body went to Defcon 2.
I used to have panic attacks, which qualify as Defcon 1, and I recognise them, but this was a whole different bunch of bananas. The back of my head began to itch as if a thousand ants were stampeding through, and my windpipe began to close shop. I had to sit down, and then everyone started to fuss, so then I had to stand up and walk around faking calm, when what I really wanted to do was to run, screaming, to a doctor with alphabet soup after his or her name, and millions of dollars’ worth of life-saving equipment, and maybe Nutella, because if you’re going to choke to death you might as well choke on Nutella.
This feeling lasted about fifteen minutes, during which I went home and crawled into bed. I am not normally the sort of irresponsible pig who will leave a party without finishing her drink, which should tell you how bad I felt.
But you know how, when you’re middle-aged, you think you’re immortal? By the next morning it was just a funny memory. Two weeks later, however, it happened again, this time at a barbeque event when I had a glass of white wine in one hand and no cigarette in the other. I was supposed to go from there to a concert to a dinner, but when my throat started to pull up the drawbridge I cancelled the lot and went straight to the nearest chemist to buy an antihistamine tablet.
I’ve never been allergic to anything in my life, but when I saw the doctor the next day he asked me all kinds of poky questions about shampoo and perfume and underwear and clothing and foodstuffs and alcohol. I sat there, dumbstruck, thinking that quitting smoking is all well and good, but if I’ve developed an allergy to alcohol I’ll have to ask him to euthanize me here and now.
The doctor asked me to maintain a food-and-drink diary for a while to try to identify the cause of these allergic reactions. He couldn’t have known what a non-starter of an idea this is—nosey siblings have scarred me for life in the diary-keeping department.
But then I got into my car and turned on the radio and one of those ‘Ab ki bar Modi sarkar’ ads came on for the millionth time. The back of my scalp stirred and my windpipe swelled up. I logged into Facebook, where friends have taken axes to each other over their political affiliations, and my tongue started to tingle. I scanned Twitter and saw more electoral data and graphs than can possibly be useful; a rash erupted on the back of my hand. I went to more dinners and heard nothing but talk about seats, candidates, politics, power, coalitions, and broke out into hives.
So I don’t really need to keep a diary, because I’ve identified my allergen—and how stupid of me not to remember: it’s polling season. I can’t wait for it to be over.