A thing or two about motion sickness


This digital painting of mine was originally not meant to capture motion sickness. But I think it works if you see it after motion sickness. (Motion Sickness by Mayank Chhaya)

I have reached a stage in life where even walking causes motion sickness. I exaggerate but it makes the point about the intensity of my congenital condition. My motion sickness predates my migraine and that makes it really old.

I am convinced now, after having studied it for over 40 years, that motion sickness does not necessarily require actual motion. Even an illusion of motion can cause it. For instance, last evening while watching a striking documentary titled  ‘Japan Tsunami: Tales of Terror’ I began to feel particularly queasy.

The documentary draws a great deal of its footage from scenes shot by the people of Japan using their camcorders and cell phone cameras in the midst of the unfolding disaster. Most of the visuals were jerky and even frenzied. Or, in other words, full of unanticipated movement for my brain and body.

It is not for the first time that visual stimulation of this kind has triggered motion sickness in me. That is one of the reasons why I do not particularly relish movies or documentaries shot with handheld or shoulder-mounted cameras.

Of course, I have experienced intense motion sickness in all the situations which are classically supposed to cause it such as a moving bus or a car. Mountain rides as a car or bus passenger are a total nightmare. Strangely though, nothing happens if I am driving or when I am flying or I am on a rollercoaster ride. That may have something to do with the fact as a driver my body anticipates the movement since I am in charge of it and deals with it differently from the way it would if I were a passenger.

Half an hour into the tsunami documentary and I was a total wreck, feeling quite like the debris of broken homes and overturned boats floating in swirly waters. I had to switch it off and take an antacid to calm my stomach.

Speaking of motion sickness let me conclude today’s unnecessarily personal post with a story out of Pakistan, circa 1993. I was a member of a foreign correspondents’ cricket team visiting Pakistan at the invitation of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, an avid cricketer himself. The idea was that foreign correspondents from Delhi would take on the prime minister’s team. As it turned out, Sharif was in the midst of a political crisis (He eventually lost power in July 1993) and could not play with us. That is the background to the story. I give it because if I have to namedrop I might as well do so shamelessly.

Since we were state guests we were treated as state guests, which among other things meant that each one of us was given a brand new Mercedes as part of a big convoy. One of the items on the agenda was a visit to Murree, a charming hill station near the capital Islamabad. Knowing my condition I was pretty sure that it was not a good idea to be part of the trip but being a member of the team I could not get out of it. I had wrongly hoped that a smooth ride in a Mercedes on a smooth road might spare me the ordeal. On the contrary, it only made it worse.

Halfway through the drive I had to request my Pakistani chauffeur to pull over. I asked him if there was an older car, even a beat down one, in the convoy that I could shift to because I figured the one I was in was so smooth that my body felt like a part of the Merc. The chauffeur found the request so absurd that he burst out laughing. He told me that every Mercedes was barely a year old, part of a recently acquired fleet for state visits.

Luckily, there was one at the end of the convoy which was older than the rest. I shifted to that but felt no comfort at all as my nausea worsened. I lay down for the rest of the duration. When we finally reached Murree I looked washed up and pale. It took a bowlful of “aam ka murabba” (pickled mangoes in a sweet syrup) to pick me up. The return downhill was even worse. Back in the hotel room the inevitable happened.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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