A family practice

by Farah Ghuznavi

02a‘YOU have to see this!’ the little girl races up to me, a tangle of limbs lengthening out of babyhood with reckless, heartbreaking speed — matched only by the equally reckless sparkle of mischief in those big, dark eyes.
She won’t tell me what ‘this’ is. So I give in — heaving an exaggerated sigh, to her delight — before following her to wherever she is intent on taking me. This is a special child, you see.
Joya became a member of my extended family at the age of three months, although we didn’t meet for some time after that. During our first encounter, I leaned forward to hug her mother. I was taken aback as I straightened, to have the baby (yet to be formally introduced) confidently lean forward and kiss me on the cheek, as a singularly sweet smile of some mysterious recognition blossomed on her face. Ambushed, I lost my heart for good.
My best friend is unmarried. Luckily for her — for all of us — in Bangladesh, suitably-vetted single women can be granted guardianship of children, thereby essentially adopting. So she became Joya’s mother six years ago. And because my friend shares a house with her parents, brother and sister, all living on separate floors, her daughter has thrived, surrounded by a strong family presence. Joya has three cousins, whom she refers to as her siblings, sharing her multi-storied home, one of whom, Aurora, is also adopted.
Joya’s companions aren’t limited to her own building. Since she was very young, she has been a frequent visitor to nearby homes, including a few where she drops in on elderly friends eager for a visit from this outgoing little girl. Everyone in the neighbourhood is familiar with her, not least because Joya believes that any festival — of whatever denomination — is a cause for celebration!
While adoption is not as common as one would wish in socially conservative Bangladesh, I’m hopeful that happy, well-adjusted children like Joya and Aurora will be part of changing this. Joya knows that she’s adopted. Each year, on her birthday, they celebrate by organising a riotous day of outdoor activities for children living at the institution where my friend found her daughter.
02bJoya has understandably had questions about her adoption, and so far seems to be adapting to the knowledge fairly well. But then, she has always had her own way of dealing with awkward questions. When she was three years old, one of the workmen painting their home asked the little girl what her (clearly absent) father’s name was.
This is of course typical for Bangladesh, where privacy remains a somewhat alien concept. People can ask startlingly personal questions, often appearing just as unfazed to be on the receiving end of such queries. Upset at the man’s nosiness, my friend rushed in to head off the inappropriate question. But Joya beat her to it, responding coolly, ‘My mother is my father!’
Now, as we enter her bedroom, I see Joya’s dolls lined up neatly on the bed that doubles as a ‘waiting room’ for her recently-established medical practice. It all started with a visit to the doctor where she was fascinated not only by the stethoscope and thermometer he wielded so authoritatively, but also the anatomical charts lining the walls of his room.
Responding to the subsequent bombardment of questions, I had bought her a toy medical kit, the contents of which she now carries around in a small black ‘doctor’s bag’ donated by her grandmother, and neatly labelled with her name and title by her adoring grandfather.
Joya proudly demonstrates her efficiency in treating her hapless patients, taking the ‘blood precious’ of the first, advising the second to take two ‘parachute’ tablets (paracetamol) for fever, and advising the third that she must wait for a short time before the doctor can give her ‘hipposis’ for her headache.
I ponder briefly whether to tell Joya that general practitioners don’t usually hypnotise their patients, but decide against it. By the time she qualifies (if she continues on this career path!), allopathic medicine may have expanded its methods to include more unconventional therapies. In the meantime, ‘Dr Joya’ has already convinced me that, contrary to conventional wisdom, blood isn’t always thicker than water.

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