When I was doing my Seminary studies in Kottayam, I fell ill one day and went to see a doctor. He saw me and started to write something down while I was still narrating my complaint. But before he heard me out, he had a prescription ready. And a new world record was set. Within 135 seconds I was out of the doctor’s consulting room paying Rs 150. For what? I had so many questions to ask, I wanted assurance of the cure even if it was a silly viral fever. And by the time I could get a grip of climbing the steps, the next patient was out and in went the next. I went with a physical complaint but came out mentally anguished. Recently I spoke to a friend of mine who suffered from a very bad back. The doctor she went to said “This is very serious. If you do not take care of your back, you may get incapacitated.” It did no good to her back, I mean those words but the words made her B.P. shoot up and it was time to see the next doctor.
Why am I telling you all these sad doctor stories? Well more often than not, one appreciates the good in life only after an encounter with the bad. When I first moved to our first new home in Pratik Nagar, Pune, Building No 4, Flat No. 8, in the year 1989, I remember chuckling at reading the name of the Doctor who had a clinic below our flat. The board read “Dr. Suhas Bulbule”. I was in 3rd standard and was just taking my early lessons in Hindi and Marathi and so was introduced to the bird ‘Bulbul’ and I was like hahaha. Well those who know me, can tell you that I can laugh at the silliest of things. As a child I could set a record at the rate at which I could fall sick and having a doctor right below my flat was “Wow, what a relief” for my parents. Well there were these “My stomach is paining” sickness which was more an “I don’t want to go to school” sickness which never reached the doctor, but earlier than that I just reached school. Like all children I hated doctors. I felt they were mean people who hurt you so badly with the injection and then pacify you with a candy. The hulaboo I made about going to a doctor was just not funny. I used to act like a ‘Bakra taken for halaal’. That is not the point. I remember sitting with my mother, running a high temperature, in the doctor’s clinic. I tried my best to convince my mother that I had no fever by touching her forehead and my forehead and telling her “Our temperature is the same mummy. You are ok, I am ok, and we all are ok.” But when did parents take their child seriously? I saw people sitting along and as a child I definitely did not like to sit with people from the nearest slum. There were many that day who were in the waiting. My mother kept complaining, “Why this doctor is taking so much time?” A patient goes in, he will for sure come after 20 minutes, minimum. Just before my turn came I saw a gypsy lady in her 70s who was notoriously a ‘loud mouth’ and had a stench, hug the doctor and bless him. I went inside the cabin and saw this tall, handsome man with a very warm smile. Before he could ask of my complaints he took all the time to strike a conversation with me. He asked me my age, which school I go, what game I play, which subject I like. Then he turned to my parents and got to know them too. And then he examined me and without even the doctor asking, my mother started complaining “He got wet in the rain, he ate cold things, the temperature started in the night, he did not sleep, I did not sleep, my husband slept” and she went on and on. After examining me he looked at my parents and smiled. “Don’t worry, he will be fine. I will give him some medicines.” And I will give him one injection followed by a candy. Well he forgot to say that. Or he forgot that he was a doctor. I was confused. I looked at his face with the expression like “Seriously, are we done.” He just ruffled my hair and told me not to get wet in the rain and to avoid sour and cold things. Then my father tried to strike a conversation asking him about his wife and children. He politely replied “I am not married.” And my father just said “O”. Now what did that mean I don’t know. I guess it is heredity, but I too keep saying a lot of ‘O’. My father took out his wallet and gave him a Rs 50 note. And the doctor returned Rs 45. Seriously? Ok this was in the year 1990, and Manmohan Singh was yet to introduce economic liberalization, but Rs 5 for a consulting charge? And after coming out of the cabin we saw many eyes staring at us with the look “What on earth were they doing so long inside”. My mother told my dad “Enthoru Nalla Doctor” (What a wonderful doctor) and for the first time I agreed with her.
From then on he has been our family doctor, our friend, our advisor, everything. My father always says that “Doctorinte samsaravum, perumattavum kannumpol thane pagathi rogam maari kittum” (Half the disease vanishes seeing the interaction of the doctor and listening to his encouraging words like “Don’t worry, everything will be fine.”) Times have come and gone, disease minor and major visited our family, but the humane approach of Dr Bulbule has been constant all these years. Months passed into years and then into decades. Dr Bulbule is still unmarried and when one of my relatives mustered the courage to ask him about his wedding plans he replied “I do not plan to get married. I don’t think I can manage being a good doctor and managing a family.” His commitment to his profession and the people is a living testimony. Poor and rich alike, he has no discrimination in his approach. The poor people from the slum flock to him because of his very low consultation fees and wonderful healing touch. If need be he also waives the fee for people who cannot afford the money. With his qualification and expertise, the Doc certainly could have minted money. But he has maintained a very low profile with a very unassuming clinic. His consultation fee has increased 10 times than the first time we encountered him. It is a paltry Rs 50 and at a follow up he just does not charge you. He is involved with many NGOs, furthering his social commitment to the community. On a personal note I am a big fan of his sense of humor. You can never get bored talking to him. When we have invited him over home for lunch, we were surprised to see the ease with which he could relate to us beyond the parameters of a doctor- patient relationship
Recently I called him to report about Soji’s sore throat and sore eyes. He told me “Don’t worry, everything will be fine, write down the name of a medicine….” Soji was depressed after a day of having a sore eye for the first time in history. To top that she had severe throat pain and cough. When I said that the doctor said things will be fine, she was not satisfied. She called him with a facial expression that was like “Ghanaa baadal, charo taraf andhera, barish hone ki sambaavana hai.” She heard “Don’t worry….” I assume, then the clouds made way and then there was sunshine.
Rev Merin Mathew
Mar Thoma Syrain Church