"Whatever you do," said my aunt, with a measure of sympathy, over the phone, "don't scratch."
I slowly slid back into bed and thought that these occasional offerings of advice did nothing to reduce the dread of what was to come. I then passed out into a fevered sleep, with the rustle of the pillowcase, the yelping of dogs, the distant echoes of hammers on stone amplified in my disoriented state. All manners of advice had been lent since the beautiful doctor frowned a pretty frown and sighed, "Yup, that's chicken pox." Things would get better in seven or eight days, she said, taking a step backwards.
Over the next two days, I heard: Have a bath; don't have a bath; have a sponge bath; soak yourself in hot water to expunge toxins; having a bath will invite the wrath of god. The last bit caught me. God?
"We call it Mata, 'mother'," explained another aunt well versed in these things. "We welcome her when she forces her way in to our homes. She stays for seven days. We don't eat meat for a week, and on the last day a woman has to sprinkle water on you before you bathe. On that day only cold food will be eaten. Until then, take it as a blessing that she is here, that she has chosen you."
Now I'm no student of mythology, but could it be that in India, as in other places, the planets of faith and science have collided and now, conjoined, revolve in an orbit all their own? In both, faith and science, the ordeal ends around the same time. I just wish it would end sooner, but according to my family, hoping for that isn't right because I've got a goddess on my face and my arms and everywhere else.
There are a few downsides to this particular goddess. You can't sleep, walk, sit straight, or even talk without sounding like the Godfather. The trip to Kanpur and Delhi has been cancelled. But thankfully, it hasn't been as bad as I imagined. Reading books and sipping tea by an open window without worrying has been a pretty decent experience. Almost like those three-month summer vacations which remain the abiding memory of school days.