Friday, February 23, 2007

Waiting for Godot, or Some Such...

Dr Koran belonged to the now extinct species of physicians that answered to the abbreviation LMP which stood for Licensed Medical Practitioner. With several years of experience behind him, Dr Koran had built a great reputation.

In the days before independence, there were not many who had been formally educated in medical science, but the country needed people who could administer more than first aid and bring relief to those with minor ailments. LMP was the answer to the prayer of the suffering patients.

The evolution of the institution of LMPs is interesting. Those who had worked with doctors for long years learned the ropes by observation and, osmotically as it were, acquired the healing touch. The pills and the mixtures they handed out cured people of minor ailments and, by and by, they acquired credibility. And they were allowed to practice medicine.

In fact, LMPs rendered yeoman service to humanity at a time when experts in the medical field were hard to come by. Dr Koran was one of the few LMPs in Cannanore (now Kannur) which was then a small town in Malabar compared to the capital Tellicherry (now Thalassery), the commercially important Calicut (now Kozhikode) or neighbouring Mangalore.

In those days when awareness of the general public about hygiene, health and sickness was rather low, most patients would be first treated by potions from herbs, roots and seeds by the elders at home who had some knowledge of home remedies. If that did not improve matters, the local vydyan would be summoned who would administer pills, potions, lehyams and rasayanams.

The doctor would be consulted only if matters were not under control even with the intervention of the vydyan. The trip to Cannanore to consult the doctor had to be made by bullock cart because the transport system had not developed much. For this reason, the visit to the doctor would take place only after much delay.

So, the opening words of Dr Koran to those who brought a patient would always be, and justifiably so, “Too late. You should have come much, much earlier.” So much so that it became a habit with him to shrug his shoulders and say these words with a tone of despair in his voice. The villagers, na├»ve as were, would look apologetic and helpless, with a promise in their eyes never to commit a similar lapse.

Dr Koran was about to close his clinic for the day on a Wednesday when a small group of people hurried towards him carrying a makeshift stretcher with a human form on it writhing in pain. The doctor had a look at the bunch of visitors and as was his wont, exclaimed with desperation, “You are very late. You should have brought him much, much earlier.” To which one in the group of simple villagers replied, “But doctor, we had to wait till he fell off the coconut tree.” They couldn’t possibly have brought him before the force of gravity took charge of the victim’s body!