'Some people are natural born healers.'
Geetanjali Krishna discovers that degrees don't matter in two tiny UP villages, healing does.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier/Rediff.com
The other day, in the hinterlands of Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, I had an interesting experience.
"Doctor sahib is here!" shouted the old woman shepherding her goats in the fields lying fallow.
Across the hill, another call went out.
"Doctor sahib is here!" And so the message was relayed to the clump of hutments a distance away.
The doctor himself was a middle aged man on a motorcycle, with a bushy grey mustache and a large red handkerchief instead of a helmet, on his head.
I caught his eye and asked him for directions to the village school to which I was headed.
"It's not very far. I'll escort you there on my bike," he said affably. Soon we arrived at our destination.
After all these years, I still find myself mystified by the easy kindheartedness of people I meet in and around Mirzapur.
So I asked him to sit a while and offered him water for his troubles.
His name was Hari Shankar Singh, and he was an itinerant doctor.
"Every day, I fill my bag with medicines, get on my bike and go to two villages -- Amoi and Turkahan, to dispense medicine to people," he told me.
In both the villages, he had designated places where he practiced -- outside a general store in Amoi and under the large banyan tree in Turkahan.
"My hours are also fixed, so everybody knows when they can come and consult me," he said. "I'm specially skilled at treating fevers and skin infections."
It was clear that he was, what they call here a desi doctor -- a practitioner without a degree.
However, to the few people I met in Turkahan, he was a godsend.
Since it is a small village on a rocky hill, five kilometers away from the nearest road, folks here don't have very much by way of medical infrastructure.
Having a doctor, albeit desi, who comes to their doorsteps with medicines, is convenient, to say the least.
"Doctor sahib knows much more than the real doctors themselves," said an old man who had come to consult him. "And he charges only about Rs 30 as fees."
Singh was not at all self-conscious about the fact that it was against the law to practice medicine without a degree.
"Whenever I come across difficult cases, I immediately refer them to other doctors in big hospitals," he said. "In fact, I mostly treat with pain relievers, skin soothers and vitamins."
The 'doctor" learnt his trade as a young man when he worked under a doctor in Gujarat for some time.
Over 30 years ago, when he returned to his village, he realised that the lack of doctors in the area was an opportunity.
Today, he treats about 40 patients a day -- at an average of Rs 30 per patient, that's a tidy income indeed.
The man was so affable and so obviously popular with his patients, it seemed almost churlish to call him a quack.
Anyway, it was not as if villagers had many other alternatives to choose from.
I left Dr Singh dispensing Crocin and an over-the-counter itch-relieving cream to an old man.
"Some people are natural born healers," said the old patient's son who had brought him there.
"Who cares if Dr Singh has a degree or not as long as he can cure our ailments?"