Saturday, 24 January 2009
This year I didn't make any new year's resolutions. Making it to India in the first place seemed ambitious enough for 2009. It's almost like the mere effort of being here, pissing in a hole, doing some yoga and coming home with a tan and telling people at the pub that you've been to 'Injiah' in a loud braying voice, is enough change for most of us. A bit like Superman in the stationary cupboard, you can get on the plane a pasty office manager with a beer belly and about as much spirituality as a potato – and six months later you've got a tanned dysentery six-pack, a sexy Israeli girlfriend who doesn't know any better and the uncanny ability to climax for 48 days solid while in handstand.
I haven't mastered the orgasms yet but last week I embarked upon a dramatic transformation of my own - and decided to have my teeth seen by a dentist for the first time in four years. In case you didn't know, dentistry tourism is all the rage these days. Root canal is like the new ayurvedic massage. There are dentists popping up on every street corner prepared to drill your teeth for about the same price as a dirty chicken korma in Brick Lane. It seems like every Om, Deepak and Hari is putting up a laminated sign outside his house and calling himself a dentist. And those framed diplomas on the wall from the University College of London Cambridge Central Oxford Miami look totally kosher.
Om: Hari you can using the drill isn't it?
Hari: Oh yes, I am using drill to putting up those shelves - todally easy isn't it.
Om: Oh todally eazy, you is having drilling, chair, torch light and one small mirror and ve are making vun dentist buziness isn't it? Now I am just needing diploma isn't it...
Deepak: I am having a very good specialising photocopying machine printer. Everything will be ready by tomorrow only. Todally professional quality only...
And here in Mysore the local hippie contingent are lining up in their droves to have their canals rooted and molars drilled. Take my word for it: crusties aren't quite as laissez faire about personal hygiene as they used to be. They still wear the same terrible clown trousers, but now their dreadlocks are clean and they spend their rupees on new crowns, laser whitening treatments and the latest tooth reconstruction methods from the United States. It's like a revolution. The next thing you know they'll be washing their feet and eating dairy products.
But I'm not one for dodgy backstreet ‘Deentists’ and ‘Cusmetic Surgeoneries’ which is why I headed to the best place in town: the Vikram Perfect: Shape, Skin and Smile, a modern monolith shining from the dust and cow dung by the side of a dual carriageway on the outskirts of Mysore. It felt more like a spaceship or luxury hair salon than a dentist, with its gleaming fluoride-white air conditioned corridors, plush leather sofas and smiling white models leap frogging about in fields with Vikram Perfect teeth, skin and boobs beaming down from every wall.
I was hypnotised. I stopped thinking my own thoughts and started thinking about fixing my boobs, belly and possibly lips and promptly forgot all those stories in Pick Me Up Magazine about the botched foreign cosmetic surgeries where your nipple ends up on your cheek, goes black and falls off and you end up with a tit on the back of your head... Nothing like that would happen somewhere like Vikram Perfect, I reasoned, and trotted off down the hall to see Dr Anita in one of six high tech consulting rooms. After all, there was nothing wrong with my teeth and I was really excited to see a plasma screen TV above my chair...
But like most seemingly perfect things, the Vikram dream soon turned into a Vikram nightmare. Dr Anita looked sweet enough, but as soon as she slipped that mask over her perfect smile she turned into a more violent, female Freddie Kruger – with drills for hands and fewer morals.
Dr Anita: MISS SARAH. TEETH IS TOTALLY ROTTON. BAD NEWS: YOU ARE NEEDING SEVEN TO EIGHT IMMEDIATE RECONSTRUCTIONS.
Me: What? But Dr Anita I clean my teeth religiously, like twice a day [except when I'm too drunk and fall asleep with all my make up and clothes on] and always use an electric tooth brush [until the batteries ran out about 6 months ago] and always brush for about 4-5 minutes [usually just before I come to the dentist] and have never felt any pain or sensitivity [except when I eat very hot or cold foods or sweet things or when I bite down too hard and then it realy hurts]... Surely it can't be that bad?
Fortunately my memory of the next few minutes is slightly blurry from the shock of hearing words like 'pulp', 'decay', 'nerve endings', 'tooth', 'dying', 'root' and 'pain' come cooly out from behind the mask. Apparently Indians don't mince their words when it comes to dentistry. Wimpering under neon lights, dry mouth wrenched open with Dr Anita's torture tools, I began to feel homesick for the cuddly incompetence of my NHS dentist Mr Heinz who talked teeth in soft Scots using words like 'won't hurt a bit' and 'just a wee sting' and smelled like warm porridge oats and never did anything that took longer than 15 minutes. But like a big brave girl I gave Dr Anita the go-ahead and she started maniacally drilling at my molars.
Dr Anita: 'PLEASE DON'T MOVE, or I may injure some part of your body with my drill unintentionally, isnt it (HA HA HA HA!).
Me: But it hurts and I'm bleeding. If I remember correctly the leaflet said 'the solution to your dental problem will be painless, bloodless and amazingly quick'.
Dr Anita: Vell don't believe everything you read. I may have to drill deeply inside cavity close to the nerve so there will be pain. Ready?
Me: No, Can I have an anesthetic?
Dr Anita: No.
Dr Anita: It's best not to have. And it's too late.
Me: OK. Sorry I'm being a baby.
Dr Anita: Yes you are like baby. Always crying and wanting to know 'will it hurt?' (HA HA HA!) Yes is going to hurt isn't it. NOW OPEN WIDE.
Apparently Dr Anita doesn't have time for cry babies. In the end she only gave me three fillings and I had to make another appointment for the rest. But before I even had a chance to spit out the blood and wipe my mouth Dr Anita got all chummy and started sweetly dangling a strip of yellowing teeth in front of my mouth. 'Your front teeth is quite yellow isn't it Sarah comparing to these? Better you have some laser whitening and some nice braces for you to straighting out those crooked front teeth you are having. I vill be doing the very most excellent job and you vill be telling all your foreigner friends about Vikram Perfect isn't it?' Oh yes Dr Anita, I will tell them all it. But not before I go home and weep quietly into a piece of bloody tissue and wonder why the hell anyone would bother getting their mouth excavated by a grinning drill-wielding psychopath when they're supposed on holiday trying to relax. Come to think of it since when did a dentist make anyone smile?