Who submerged the tortoise!?

During my time in India I came to the conclusion that I was cursed when it came to surgery…. Every time I picked up a scalpel, nothing went smoothly, thankfully not due to my surgical skill I might add! On one particularly unlucky day which springs to mind, we had a power cut half way through my first surgery which resulted in me fumbling around inside a dog in the dark trying to find my suture material by torch light, which did a fantastic job of blending in. Once power was restored after a lot of angry hollering at the staff by Jack who was also wrist deep in a dog’s abdomen, the next surgery I came to had already had a visit from the “phantom spayer” ( This was the name which we invented for the organisation which seemed to be “helpfully” spaying dogs without notching their ears to indicate they’d been sterilised, making life quite frustrating for the people at HIS) so I spent 20 minutes feeling incredibly incompetent fishing around in this poor dog’s abdomen trying in vain to find it’s uterus (before everyone with any surgical experience thinks I’m an absolute moron for not being able to find the uterine stump, the dogs at HIS were spayed via a flank incision as there was deemed to be less risk of infection and wound breakdown when they released the dogs so the abdomen could not be visualised). Once I’d given up, one of the more experienced compounders came to have a poke and then finally Jack was called to confirm that this dog had in fact already been spayed. This did make me feel slightly better as at least it wasn’t just me being useless! I guess looking back now it did all add an element of excitement to the occasion.

I actually managed to get a bit of a tan from the previous day spent with the camels which I was quite excited about. The 10 gallons of sun cream I was convinced I would need, remained packed in my rucksack as the air is so clogged with filth and pollution (which I’d rather not think about) that the UV barely makes a dent in it. I have to admit that I naively thought I would return from India with a beautiful sun tan, the reality is I came back just as chalky white as when I left, much to my family’s amusement. I still find the notion of the Indians, especially the women wanting to be pale quite baffling though, they seem to worship Western skin yet we do the complete opposite and go to hot countries with the aim to bake ourselves.  Ranjna said that her mother encouraged her to stay inside “or no one would want to marry her” which is ridiculous, heck, she’s so beautiful I’d have married her! It’s so sad that women feel they have to subject themselves to extensive waxing and hiding from the glorious sun in the name of beauty and in order to get a husband. Beth and I rocked our horrendously hairy legs with pride during our time in India with no shame at all!

The number of operations attempted outside the ABC clinic improved substantially during our time at HIS due to our persistent endeavours to kick the over-relaxed vets into gear and make them do something useful. We felt incredibly strongly about this as many of the animals which would have been euthanised on the spot are left to die naturally due to the strong ethical beliefs of the community. In my opinion this is far from ideal as I am very pro-euthanasia when needed, however I feel in cases like those, an incredibly pro-active approach to their care and pain management should be taken , and this was what I found was often missing at HIS.

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Incidents as Jack called them were incredibly easy to cause as a Westerner and we fast learnt that as two white girls we were under constant watch, and therefore couldn’t get away with doing anything embarrassing without everybody noticing. One particular incident I caused was when I forgot to wear a belt. I didn’t consider the excitement I would cause when I bent down and everyone could see the top of my bright pink knickers. Naveen, one of the vets chose to tell me this after the entire morning had passed with many excited Indian gentleman following me round to stare at the flash of pink while I was busying myself poking around with people’s pets. I did wonder at the time why they were all stood so close! It’s both hilarious and frustrating how easy it is to cause a scene in India. I found the whole place was a bit of an oxymoron; on the one hand they are the creators of the karma sutra, a concept adopted whole heartedly by the sex loving west and depict many naked women in their artwork yet, they seem so shy and embarrassed by even the slightest hint of nakedness and we heard that even with their own partners it is uncommon for them to undress in front of each other and they commonly get it on with their saris on!

The general public definitely lack education when it comes to their animals in India. It was my experience that most of them were incredibly well-meaning and wanted to help but also absolutely clueless. One particular incident which springs to mind was when a concerned member of the public had found a tortoise wandering about on the high-street. They had rightly brought it in to HIS for help, however had perceived it to be a turtle and the well-meaning fellow had promptly submerged it in water where it had been for 45 minutes until it arrived at HIS. Thankfully tortoises can hold their breath for a significant while and a very panicked Jardice had recognised the problem and scooped it out. After a bit of TLC in a less watery environment the tortoise got over its ordeal quite spectacularly.

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That evening we went to an Indian craft market with Ranjna who had some exciting/ frankly terrifying news for us. She had become engaged to the son of a family friend. On paper he sounded fairly nice; he was in banking and came from a wealthy background, he was a few years older ( which was definitely a good thing as from walking through the streets of Jaipur you fast discovered that the 30 and 40 year old men are still acting like intolerable horny teenagers so there was no hope at all for the younger ones!) and their family had agreed to let Ranjna finish her studies before she got married. However, I couldn’t help but still have a problem with arranged marriages, there seemed to be something just so medieval and suffocating about it all to not have your own choice of husband or wife and to marry for convenience and social status rather than love (what can I say, I’m a romantic!). It seemed sad really when all the Indians talk about and watch on TV, both men and women is love and yet they spend their days trying to convince both themselves and us westerners that arranged marriages are much more preferable. I think that is largely why they make such a big deal out of the weddings to try and mask some of the uneasiness about the whole affair and make it seem a much happier occasion than it often is. Undoubtedly it sometimes works, Ranjna’s parents were lucky in that they found a great match in each other but I couldn’t help but think this was rare and what largely happens in most circumstances is husband and wife learn to cohabit together, with each knowing their role in the agreement. Both Beth and I felt a bit protective over Ranjna as she was a really intelligent girl, aspiring to be a vet and really could make something of herself if she was given the opportunity. It was difficult for us to accept that she was facing a life where essentially her husband and his family could dictate what she was allowed to be, which I found incredibly frustrating on her part. I hope sincerely that this match works as well as her parent’s did ….. well in three years’ time I have a wedding invitation and I am incredibly keen to see how things turn out (and more selfishly I can’t deny being incredibly keen to experience an Indian wedding myself).

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