My sister had this unfortunate habit of swooning like a Victorian-era lady as soon as she saw blood. Hemophobia, in medical terms. Naturally, it happened at the most inconvenient of times. She never failed to specify that it was the sight of her own blood which caused it. But of course, that did not stop our mother from making her chop and dice in the kitchen, and even scrape coconuts on a boti—probably the most menacing implement I have seen in a South Asian kitchen.
She was extremely sensitive to thunderstorms as well, rushing to the safety of our parent’s room to shield herself from the gods while I snored away, oblivious. She would cower under the covers till the acoustics ceased. During the month of April, as the Bordoisila visited her mother’s house (as the story goes), my sister continued her nocturnal activities. Much later I was able to put a name to this condition: astraphobia.
In addition, she had this affliction where she couldn’t refuse people if they asked for a favour. I don’t know if there is a medical term for this, but ‘people-pleasing’ runs in our genes. So, on a humid summer morning when we were fanning ourselves furiously because of another power cut, she sauntered in with a supercilious expression wearing a saree. I knew instinctively that she was up to no good and I would somehow become a part of her diabolical plans. In a regal voice she informed us that she had decided to donate blood. For a moment or two, I lost the ability to speak and felt cold despite the vehement heat. When I recovered, I started reciting, like a multiplication table, the number of occasions she had passed out at the mere hint of blood.
“My own blood,” she said automatically.
I glared at her. This one time when she had decided to stay home from University, Geeta—the cleaning lady at my mother’s place, found her unconscious on every flat surface of the house. One day, she had managed to slice her finger while attempting to clean fish. “Bhonti has fainted,” Geeta had yowled, clearly traumatised. Ma never let her miss classes after that, mostly because she had been interrupted while bathing at least thrice by loud banging and a panicky Geeta who discovered her around our home in various positions. “Thank God she didn’t quit,” our mother commented later, making her priorities very clear.
My parents insisted I tag along to the hospital to make sure that their older child was alright. I applaud my parents’ misplaced confidence in me. But I took this opportunity to chastise my mother and remind her that she wouldn’t let me sign an organ donation form but allowed my sister to do whatever she wanted. They shot back that she was married and no longer their responsibility. So, we turned up at the government-run hospital and she looked away and I looked away as the needle found her perfect vein and the bag filled up with positivity, her blood group being B+. When she was done, they gave her a bottle of highly sugared fruit juice, which filled me with envy and placed a smug look on her face. After it was all over, she told me that we would be paying a visit to a relative who was a patient in one of the wards.
It was while sitting in that tiny room that I noticed her face twitch. She was wiggling her toes to stay upright. “You are not feeling well,” I screamed because all civility leaves my body when I panic. Like a mother from a Bollywood movie of the seventies, she kept denying it until she had to lay down on the attendant’s bed. I went and sat outside on a bench to avoid overcrowding. I don’t know if I am super sensitive, empathetic, or have mirror-touch synesthesia but there was a strange tingling sensation in my neck. Putting my head between my knees I tried to keep myself from fainting as well, leading a lot of hospital workers to scrutinise me with great curiosity.
Finally, embarrassed, I went inside and lay down beside my sister. I had only ‘watched’ someone donate blood and now wanted the earth to swallow me up. By that time a doctor had been summoned and some kind people were dispatched to buy rosogullas.
As we two brave souls lay on the bed, a young and handsome doctor peered down at us, confused. “So, this one donated blood and the other one is now feeling unwell?”
So unprofessional, I tell you! He was snorting by the time he finished examining us. It was only after a rosogulla or two that my sister was revived, and I mysteriously started to feel better. We apologised profusely for showing poor judgement and bolted but were unlucky enough to run into another family member who convulsed with laughter when we told her what had happened. “I could have died,” I later told my unsympathetic father, exaggerating everything.
Years later, just to spite my sister I tried donating blood for our mother but failed as I started to feel dizzy. The doctors asked us who had donated the few ounces. Our disappointed mother lied that she did not know. I have found other ways to save lives since then.
 Rosogulla: Indian sweet made from cottage cheese and boiled in sugar syrup.
 Boti: A cutting tool found in most kitchens in South Asia known for its sharp, curved blade.
 Bordoisila: The Assamese name of the heavy and destructive storms characteristic to East India during April-May, at the onset of summer.
 Bhonti: Sister in Assamese.