The End of the Line
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The End of the Line I walk to Zainab’s house from my house in Kaifabad through streets not wide enough for a car, redolent with raw sewage from the open gutters that run down both sides of the road. None of the houses in her neighborhood has a yard. They all share three walls with other homes, the fourth wall flush with the narrow alleyway. Most of the houses are two stories, with one extended family on each floor. Zainab lives on the ground floor of a small house with her husband’s parents, his three brothers, and their families. I have never counted how many children live in this space, but their enthusiasm always overwhelms me as they pull me through their gate into their tiny, rundown entryway and attempt to force their beleaguered parrot to perform a new word for me. Some of the children are usually preparing potatoes to be made into french fries at Zainab’s brother-in-law’s tiny and struggling storefront shop. Zainab’s room, which she shares with her husband and six children, is barely large enough for the heavy and ornately carved bed and dresser that were her dowry. (Some of the older children sleep in the extended family’s shared living room.) Her husband is a driver in a government office and makes Rs. 10,000 (about $160) a month—not enough for Zainab to afford a separate home for her family. As always, Zainab seats me on the bed, plumps the pillows around me, and goes to make me tea. In this female space, Zainab’s younger sisters-in-law and I allow our cotton dupaṭṭās, or headscarves, to fall off our heads while we talk. They are both fairly recently married, and still wearing the fancy clothing that was in their bridal trousseaus. Over milk tea, biscuits, samosas, and french fries (Zainab is always a generous hostess), I turn on my audio recorder and interview Zainab about the immunization of her children. Of the six, two are under five. Zainab has made sure that both of them got their full course of routine immunizations. Her young children also received polio drops in the last door-todoor campaign. Zainab, a talkative woman, readily elaborates on anything she can think of having to do with polio immunization: The woman who comes to our house to give polio drops, she’s become my friend. Even if I’m not here, she’ll make sure she gives my children the polio drops before she leaves. Whenever she comes, especially in the winter, she’ll have a cup of tea here. She’s a good woman [ek acchī­ mohazab sī ‘aurat hai]. There’s a young girl who comes with her. And there you have it: the most detailed, in-depth conversation about the polio campaigns I had with any of the seventy-eight mothers I interviewed. Zainab believes that vaccination is a good thing; she has gotten to know the woman who came door-to-door delivering polio vaccine; really, what more is there to say? ...


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