[My childhood memories, both sweet and sour, are many and varied. They still linger in my heart as I cherish them and safe keep them from the onslaughts of Time. One such dramatic and sad experience that stands out still in the vault of my memory is my encounter with a quack. It happened when I was early in my teens.]
Faced with pecuniary hardships, DU [Doctor Uncle, my neighbor], had decades back, discontinued his medical studies and become a doctor … a self-made-pseudo doctor. His working in a clinic as a paramedic gave him the audacity to call him a doctor.
As luck had it, he soon became famous and most sought-after doctor in my area. For, people believed that he had some mystical healing power in him and his mere touch on the patients would cure them of their ailments. However, aunty [DU’s wife] never gave a fig to such beliefs, calling them rubbish and DU a quack.
Though past 50, DU looked smart with his French goatee and neatly groomed hair. [Hair!!! He had only strands and that too at the back of his head, which, with much effort, he had combed it and brought it to the front just to hide his gleaming pate]. I always saw him wearing dhoti in a Diwan-like style, sporting a black coat over his shirt.
Saturn led my dad to take me to DU when I had an earache for days on end. Leaving me to the doctor’s custody, my dad went on his official tour. DU peered into my ear with the help of a flashlight and tweaked it gently. He then became contemplative for a while and said: ‘Only people afflicted with brain tumor will have such unbearable earache.’ I hardly heard what he said as I felt like blasted and blown into pieces. I screamed my head off and my body trembled.
However, DU was cool. He consoled me saying that he could cure all kinds of tumors, both benign and malignant, with his ‘Touch Therapy’, a device he had acquired after a long research. I stood wonder-struck. Later, when I was watching the film Munna Bhai M.B.B.S, an involuntary thought about DU flashed my addled head.
More grueling was the following day. I went into tears and refused when DU asked me to get a tonsure. He then took me to a dingy lab and had me undergone all the medical tests he knew by his books/journals. We also went to an ENT specialist as DU wanted a second opinion on his diagnosis. ‘Hell with his diagnosis; this cad only takes me for a ride,’ I moaned.
The ENT was a baldie, had untrimmed bushes of hair falling on the sides of his head. I was scared of his bushy mustache and pock --marked face. He had a cache of medical instruments displayed on his table. Not allowing me to take a second look at his ‘stockpile’, he lifted up my chin and peered into my ear as DU did before.
To my great shock, the ENT took out a small tong from his cache, shoved it into my ailing ear, twisted it a bit and pulled it away as fast as he could not minding my screams. Gosh, out came with the tong was a bit of a broken pencil, which I recalled I had thrust into my ear a week back. ‘Had been searching this bloody stub for long’, I shouted with joy and tried to release me from the grip of the ENT.
But, he didn’t let me go. He poured some stingy jell into my beleaguered ear and covered it with a big bandage, which ran across my face and covered my left eye too. I felt looking like another Moshe Dayan. ‘Sure, it’s a value-added to my semi-deafness’, I moaned again.
‘Who the nut?’ the ENT snarled at me throwing the pencil bit into the dustbin. ‘Who got you into all those bloody tests when you’re in perfect health?’
‘Doctor Uncle’, I mumbled.
‘Why, did you call me uncle?’ the ENT growled, twirling his mustache. ‘Yes … no’, I sputtered. He looked at me sternly for a moment and then blared out, ‘uh, you mean that old bloke with a black coat. I saw him sneaking out of my room when I was taking the pencil bit from your ear.’
Aghast I stood, cursing DU and calling him names. I didn’t know even today how I escaped from the ENT’s ominous spell.
I went to the DU’s house again after six months. Aunty was persistently inviting me home as she was outraged over the ordeal I underwent due to her quack husband’s wrong diagnosis. I was puzzled seeing DU sitting on a bench in his room which was once his clinic. He was clean shaven. His pate was more gleaming than ever due to the conspicuous absence of even a few strands of hair. ‘Who robbed his black coat?’ I thought.
His table too was clean and tidy. There was no trace of medical books/journals. It was now decked up with volumes of Ramayana and Mahabharata. Reading my mind, Aunty said: ‘Easwar, I’ve banned his doctor business; I’ll never allow him to play that game again after what he had done to you.’ She went to the kitchen to brew tea for me.
I smiled triumphantly at DU, but he, the maverick, took a bunch of papers from one of the volumes of Ramayana and showed them to me. No doubt, they were patient’s call sheets tucked away cleverly in between the pages of the two epics. The call sheets hinted DU’s calling on the patients at their homes instead of having them called him at his clinic.
‘A mobile clinic. Tell your dad that he too can call me to your house if you people like,’ DU murmured and smiled at me rather impishly.
And that triggered my running away from his house abruptly without waiting for auntie. I ran home so swiftly and recklessly, which I never did in the past nor would do it in my lifetime.