Did I ever tell you about that time I broke my teeth?

I was fifteen years old, and therefore, remarkably stupid. Even stupider than I am now, because, from what I've seen, that's what happens when you're fifteen. You reach the pinnacle of stupidity. It starts at twelve, naturally, and in my case, it was accelerated by a visit to Thailand from which I returned convinced I was a hippy. There's a sudden spike when you reach thirteen ("I'M A TEENAGER, I'M A TEENAGER! DO I LOOK LIKE A TEENAGER?" "No.") and from there it continues to steadily grow. At fourteen, you look back in disdain at your twelve year old self and your thirteen year old self, and you are convinced that you have finally matured, but then you spend three months dressed in nothing but black with too much makeup which you inevitably forget about when you start playing football and it trickles down, and then you go home and write bad poetry about it.

For me though, fifteen outdid it all. By the time I was sixteen, I was comfortable with who I was, I even started liking who I was (looking back, I put it down to bad taste), but I had to go through fifteen to get there. It didn't help that most of the time, instead of focusing on developing into a fully functioning adult, I was busy pining for someone who only remembered I existed when he needed a twelfth man for cricket (and have things changed, really?)

Anyway, I was fifteen, stupid, and I wanted to get the attention of this boy - known as Bastard, because that is what I constantly referred to him as in my diary.

The children in my building used to play sport according to season. Spring was usually football and basketball, summer was always cricket, autumn would bring football back, and the months between November and February were reserved for badminton.

Next to the badminton court is an open garage, the roof stretching from the first floor of the first block to the first floor of the second block. While playing, it was not unusual for the shuttle cock to fly up and land on the roof of the garage. It had to be retrieved by climbing a pipe, and using that to climb a wall, balancing on that wall lightly holding on to the barbed wire on top, and then stretching across (or leaping across depending on leg length) to the garage roof.

I don't want to brag, but I was the only girl who could do it.

Anyway, one evening in December, a week before I was due to leave for a family Christmas in London, the shuttle cock went up. The person who sent it up there was Bastard's little sister.

"Trisha," she said sadly, looking at me with big brown eyes, "my shuttle cock's gone up there. Please get it down for me, please."

What could I do? I had to play hero. There's something about six year olds with big eyes that just gets to me. I also knew Bastard would be on his way back from tuition any moment, and I envisaged myself as a selfless being who'd risked life and limb to help his baby sister, whom he has a huge soft spot for.

So I climbed. I'd chucked the shuttle down to her, receiving with quiet grace her cries of thanks, and was making my way down when it happened.

I was balancing on the wall, holding on to the barbed wire, when a bunch of dogs suddenly started barking. I was startled, I lost my balance, and I felt myself falling backwards. It all happened - luckily for me - in slow motion. I saw the moon, and I knew I was falling, and some instinct told me that whatever happened, I shouldn't fall backwards, so I did a sort of flip in the air, and dragged the barbed wire down with me to break my fall. And then suddenly I was falling face forward, and I remember seeing a woman standing close by with a very shocked expression on her face and thinking, "yeah, that's helpful, bitch," and then I hit the ground. My chin hit the ground first, and something plopped out of my mouth.

It took me three seconds to realise that my front teeth had fallen out.

I shakily stood up. Blood was pouring out from everywhere. From my mouth, from my hands, and my tshirt had been ripped and there was a long gash on my stomach. No pain, I was in shock. So I did the only thing I could think of - I started running around in circles, hands placed firmly over my mouth, screaming that my teeth had fallen out.

My friends had all landed up by this time - including Bastard who was laughing in a very un-chivalrous sort of way - and everyone was standing around helplessly.

"Go home," someone said.

"I can't go home," I shrieked. "I'm bleeding and I have no teeth. My grandmother will have a heart attack! She'll die!"

At that precise moment, my mother drove up. Her sense of timing has never been good - the only time she's ever been early is when she gave birth to yours truly, because that's what happens when a heavily pregnant woman goes dancing on New Year's Eve - but on this occasion, she was right on schedule. She took one look at me and bundled me into the car, but not before I'd managed to shriek, "FIND MY FUCKING TEETH!" to my dumbfounded friends.

She drove me to Jayatri's dad who is the doctor my family always turns to. He cleaned my mouth out very gently and put some cotton wool where my teeth used to be to stem the bleeding (I'd started crying by this time - the pain had set in by now, and I'd also caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror) and he bandaged my hand and stomach. It was a Saturday night and there were no dentists available, but we could, he thought, get the teeth put back in if I saw a dentist that night.

He called a friend of his - Dr Rajiv Butta. Dr Butta was in the outskirts of Calcutta, enjoying a dinner date with his wife, but upon hearing that I was a toothless fifteen year old, he told Uncle Jatrik that he'd head back to the city as soon as possible, and for me to get hold of my teeth and bring them to him.

My mother and I drove back to Kusum. My friends had already found one tooth, and were currently hunting for the other one.


"Auntie! There's something long and white and shiny under this car!" yelled a little Sardarji boy, nearly falling over in his excitement. He recovered quickly, and crawled underneath, while we all stood around with bated breath. He emerged in a few moments, dusty, holding aloft my admittedly long, admittedly white, admittedly shiny, tooth.

My mother took me home after that - but not before Bastard gently held my cut hand, tracing the bandages, asking softly whether it hurt very much, which in itself made the entire ordeal worth it, in my eyes, at that moment.

Dr Butta called around eleven pm to say he was back and to bring me straightaway to his surgery. So Mum took me - and my teeth in a little container of milk. I don't remember much of what happened there. I was in the chair for about two and a half hours, and the pain had made everything sort of numb. My mother told me later that I was very brave, the way I just sat there, very still, with my mouth open, but to be honest, I think I'd passed out by then.

He operated on me and put my teeth back in and held them together with a band that more or less merged with the teeth.

"Keep this on for a month," he told my mother. "And then bring her back. Once I take the band off, if God is willing, her teeth will stay on,"

"And if God is not willing?" I murmured, not thinking too highly of God at this point.

"They'll fall off," he said cheerfully, "and we'll put implants in."


I spent the next three days in a presription drug fuelled haze which made me feel like I was floating through space, and that nothing mattered. Eventually recovered, though much to my dismay I was banned from badminton for the rest of the season, and a week later I was off to London.

"I can't eat this," I told Sue on my first night, as she placed salmon steak in front of me. "My teeth will fall off,"

My uncle, who was sitting there, said nothing, but on Christmas Day, as I attacked turkey with vigour (I'd learnt to eat without using my front teeth by then - a habit that remains to this day), he casually remarked that it was quite incredible how my teeth never seemed to interfere with food I enjoyed eating. I chose to maintain a dignified silence.

When I returned to Calcutta, Dr Butta carefully took my band off. I'd stuck my tongue out, ready to catch my teeth should they fall off. I didn't want to swallow them.

But they didn't fall off, they stayed on. As Dr Butta said, as he fervently shook my hand, it was a miracle. He'd never seen anything like it before.

"So, everything's alright now?" said my mother, who'd aged about ten years.

"Well," he said, "they will fall off eventually, but I don't know when. Come back to me when that happens."

It's been a little over five years, and my teeth are still in place. I'm resigned to the fact that they will fall off eventually, probably just when I need them most, but I'm grateful to have come out comparatively unscathed.

And believe you me, the story makes for excellent bar conversation. Disastrous experiences usually do.

The teeth - ten days after they'd fallen out. Not bad, considering. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love your little teeth...