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Noor's ambiguous curry


A man with ulcerated injection sites in Delhi. Patients with such leg ulcerations make up majority of MCH's clientele. Photo by Dean LewisNoor

This morning, with thanks to the Australian Cricket Team, morale seems particularly high in Michael's Care Home, New Delhi. The staff and clients of the AIDS hospice and mini hospital, squash up on the old cast iron beds of the main ward and watch Australia (32 for 3) squirm live on TV.

Between overs, one of the care workers disentangles himself from the jubilant add break highlights recap, and bounds up to me with a piece of paper in his hand. The paper, though of creamy, freshly minted quality, is already softening along the fold, a sign of being read and re-read many times over.

We stand next to the bed of Noor, the patient who I came today to visit, and share the contents of the page. On this day of victory, its contents make me cry.

Before that though, let me tell you about Noor.

Noor is about 45. Tall. Muscled.

My earliest memory of Noor is in the kitchen of 'Sahara', the heroin rehabilitation centre to which Michael's Care Home is attached. Long hair in a ponytail, white singlet with sweat crescents under the arms. Hoisting kilo upon kilo of rice or hovering above the perpetual dhal pot, bini (local cigarette) smoke trailing from his lips as he tossed in onions. A tomato.

He ran a slick kitchen. Vital, sunny-windowed place. The sort of kitchen you feel drawn to. I remember leaning against the bench top, sipping water and listening to Phantom of The Opera on his radio in one ear and instalments from his 15 year saga with the Afghani Embassy in the other. Noor was an Albanian refugee, somehow made it through Afghanistan to India where he wound up in heroin rehab.

Despite the smallness of the Sahara kitchen, Noor never shooed me away. He churned out three meals a day for all present at mealtime, the aroma of his cooking as reliable as the sun.

Brown and ambiguous, we made jokes about 'The Noor Curry' then.

The details of how Noor went from staff member at the men's rehab centre to patient at Michael's Care Home are foggy. It happened around Christmas time. Alcohol was involved. A fall. Brain haemorrhage. Emergency surgery.

Now a piece of his skull is missing and a thick line of cable stitching closes the place where his brain was exposed. His long black hair is shorn and the jagged greying crop makes him look vulnerable as a lamb. Occasionally his eyes respond to words.

The care workers have been trying to help him walk. At night he sits up and mutters a little in his first language. The rest of the time his hands are bandaged to the bed sides and he sleeps. They tell me he needs further surgery, but for now, rest and healing.

Michael's Care Home first came into being in 1998 to care for those marginalised by addiction and ostracised from society by HIV. Public hospitals in Delhi, were too scared to touch them. So were their families. So, rather than let people die on the path outside the emergency departments (as was happening) Michael's Care Home was born.

There still aren't many family visitors to Michael's Care Home. Blood relatives don't cook special convalescent cuisine or send cards.

But a care force has been formed to look after Noor.

Sporting tattoos and track marks and the signature Sahara combed hair and worn but washed clothes, they take turns at occupying the uncomfortable plastic chair at Noor's bedside, by day and night, anticipating his every need.

His meals are prepared by an ex-client of the rehab centre (now the hospice cook) and spoon fed to him by a team of young men (all ex-injecting drug users) who, having completed some or all of their own rehabilitation, have volunteered to be with Noor in his.

Noor, with no family to speak of in India, has someone with him 24 hours a day.

One of the volunteers, a handsome and talented soccer player (also, along with his brother, a refugee from Iran and witness to his own father's execution) sits with his patient by night. He speaks in Persian to Noor and translates what little anyone can offer in encouragement.

Another, one-time street child, shaves Noor with gentleness that cuts directly to the heart.

And still another, stands beside me this morning, bashfully holding a clean piece of paper on which his recently written letter of reference is printed.

We read together slowly.

'Mr. Satish, 27 years old has been working with us as a care worker from 2003–present. He is diligent, committed and his performance is satisfactory in every way ... We wish him every success in future undertakings ...'

It is signed by Sahara 's Director of Medicine.

His hard yards in heroin rehab and then as a volunteer care worker are coming to an end and he has applied for a job in a hospital outside Michael's Care Home. He plans to continue to live at Sahara and help out where he can around the hospice, caring for people such as Noor, but build a life and a career in the world outside also.

In mixed Hindi and English. 'I just like to care for people.'

I feel the heat of tears rising. Satish has never had a letter of reference before.

His job interview is at 10am tomorrow morning. No doubt he'll be sighted in a borrowed shirt and freshly pressed pants, reference in hand.

The Cricket score is Australia 155 for 5. A roar erupts throughout Michael's Care Home. Noor is sleeping.

'The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it.' –Hellen Keller


Cara MunroIn 2006 and 2008, registered nurse Cara Munro spent time with 'Sahara', a community of people who run India's largest and most successful heroin rehabilitation center and programs to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Her essay 'Noor' placed Third in the 2008 Margaret Dooley Awards.


Image of man with ulcerated injection sites, typical of clients to Michael's Care Home, courtesy Dean Lewis.

Topic tags: cara munro, noor, michael's care home, aids hospice, new delhi, margaret dooley awards



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Existing comments

i fought to get this home funded from the government...after visiting and assessing it...

can't say | 08 October 2008  

Noor, whom I have lived with, who fed me when I was a client at Sahara, who I spent years laughing with, died a few months ago. There will be no more "Noor Curry" at Sahara.

Dean Lewis | 09 October 2008  

Thank you for the opportunity to visit another world, and to see how kind people can be.

kath | 09 October 2008  

AAGAH (Anti-AIDS Global Aware for Healths)in India at Central center Delhi and NCR areas for un-organized labours in

Arif Clinton | 10 October 2008  

A great piece for insight into the sometimes elusive human compassion, Cara. The recipients of "Noors curry" seem to have been warmed and nourished by the experience.

Alinta | 12 October 2008