Long time ago…The village Doctor
This is a piece written by my father.
This was in the ‘40s. It’s about a young man in his early twenties who hailed from a humble family that lived in a small district in Kerala. The family somehow managed to make both ends meet. This young man had a family – his father, a schoolmaster who made a paltry ₹40 a month and four sisters. He went to school in the main town, walking 5 km from home to school and back. In those days, buses and other means of conveyance were rare or not affordable to all. After completing his matriculation and being the only son in the family, he had to make a choice – seek a job or study further and get a better-paying job to help the big family. (I’m glad he chose the latter.)
He was sent to Ooty (Udagamandalam) in the Blue Mountains or The Nilgiris to his brother-in-law, an Ayurvedic practitioner. He stayed there for about two years. He learned about some courses conducted at the Madras Medical College, which included an Ayurvedic-cum-allopathic licentiate course. This 2 1/2-year course (Licensee in Indian Medicine) would get him a Government job and someday, he could practice as a Doctor. Needless to say, he went for it. After completing the course and getting the diploma, he went back to Ooty and started practicing.
Whilst, in Ooty, a beautiful fair, grey-eyed Anglo-Indian girl, 19, who had completed her studies from Lovedale School, caught his attention. It was love at first sight. 1942: A Love Story, if you please. She was not very comfortable with her stepmother. Her father somehow nodded his consent and they got married. Now the twist – she was Dorothy, a Christian and he was a Hindu. This marriage could cause an outrage in erstwhile Kerala. Hence unwillingly – he renamed her Damayanthi – a name that went down well with the existing social mores. He never asked her to convert though. He loved her and would not have anything to do with her religion. She followed suit – she went to the Church, the Dargah, the Gurdwara, and temples alike.
In due course of time, he got an offer from the Madras Medical School – a posting in a remote village in Maharashtra. He accepted the challenge in spite of the fact that he was a Malayali. His knowledge of Sanskrit helped him speak Hindi and understand Marathi. This young man then migrated to the godforsaken village Lakhni, 20 Km from Bhandara town, Maharashtra with his newlywed wife. He assumed office after reporting at the Primary Health Centre, Bhandara . They started a new life – built their own new world tucked away from urban jungles, in a quaint hamlet.
Those were the days when there was just one doctor for every 5-6 villages in rural areas of Maharashtra. He filled the lacuna. His treatment was very economical and free to those who could not afford even that economical fee. Modern medicines were not readily available in the 40s and 60s in those rural areas. Being the only doctor for so many villages, was really something. Day and night calls were a regular feature. Though he was not a gynaecologist – he successfully carried out several deliveries.
As modes of transport were few and far between, he had to travel horseback or in small bullock carts through dense forests mainly to attend to deliveries. Frequently, he had to travel overnight travelling on visits. 90% of his delivery cases were a success – although, complicated cases were referred to the district hospitals. His fees and medicine charges ranged from Rs. 5-10. If it was a visit to other villages, where deliveries were to be done, the charges would then be just Rs. 20-30.
He wanted to get back to his hometown in Kerala but all the people from his village and the adjoining 5-10 villages pleaded with him to stay back. They were all so much satisfied with his treatment that they didn’t want him to leave. They promised to set up a dispensary for him – they even sponsored a nice and cosy place for it. Some well-off villagers sponsored furniture and other equipment needed for setting up a dispensary. Hence started his private practice and he went on to become the famous doctor Saab. I wholeheartedly admire this gentleman for his selfless services he rendered to the society without any greed for money.
A year later, they were blessed with a fair, green-eyed son. After two years, this man was posted at another interior village, which connected to the National Highway. He settled there and continued practice for several years. His progeny kept increasing, bringing the number to 5 sons. But the longing for a girl child just grew stronger. Finally, his prayers were answered and he was blessed with a girl child.
Those were the days when everything was very cheap. The cost of living was very low. The children were admitted to a prestigious boarding school in Nagpur, about 50 miles away. It was a Christian school. All the children completed their schooling in Nagpur. They later wandered off pursuing further studies and then for jobs in different directions.
All the people in that area loved him very much. He was like a family friend. He was a special guest at all their family functions and festivals. He was a really great personality. He was revered for all the great work he did for humanity, at least in that mofussil area. Today, his erstwhile profession has become a money minting proposition. If he were born a few decades later, he would have been a millionaire.
In the 90s, the simple, down-to-earth, honest man returned to his hometown in Kerala to settle down with his family in his own home which he built with his hard- earned money. Now in their eighties, in the winter of their lives, they were still so much in love. Together they sat at the veranda on their comfy nest (call it ‘house’) staring into to the horizon exchanging a casual word or a statement every now and then. Their silence spoke volumes – thereby confirming that love does not depend on words for expression. Their journey together was cut short abruptly when one day, his lady love succumbed to her geriatric illness and left him teary-eyed forever. That’s when the headstrong doctor of the yore crumbled to pieces. He was shattered. He didn’t speak a word – however somewhere deep inside – he had lost the desire to live. With the love of his life gone forever – he wanted to go too – just that he was a doctor – he bestowed and rescued life. He was the man several souls looked up to. He had to go on – and he did. He died a piece a day. After spanning decades from pre-to-post Independence, this simple soul, unable to take it anymore – succumbed to loneliness and other geriatric issues at the end of the 20th century.
– A tearful yet proud son.