A village in the south of Kerala, a state at the southern tip of India, Anadhikritapuram was our vacation hideout. Our grandparents lived there and later on when my father retired from the army, we moved in, occupying one of the many houses grandfather had built during his
lifetime. Life was simple then, TV had only one channel, which was government-owned and viewable programs came in at selected times late in the evening. So for us children that meant we had to find other avenues to spend time. For me that meant, reading novels and repairing a transistor radio ,which used to work before I started repairing it. On the rare occasions when it did not rain, I used to play cricket at the local club.
With so much of rain pouring down all the time, there always was a chance of falling ill but then the villagers generally ignored minor illnesses. Also there were limited options for those really sick in our village, you either travelled twenty kilometers to the nearest good hospital or visited Dr. Patel’s clinic. Most people prefered to make the twenty kilometer trip.
One day after getting all drenched playing cricket, I ended with a slight fever. For two days the fever came and went. Normally at home we have a policy of avoiding doctors. We wait for the fever to eventually give up and move over to the neighbours, but this time it seemed to lack any such intentions. Finally my father, took me to Dr. Patel’s clinic.
Dr. Patel, was the youngest member of the Patel family.Patels, traditionally belonged to the state of Gujarat, on the western coast of India and were not usually found in Kerala. This family had moved in some fifty years back and my grandfather had played a part in their settling down here. His clinic was a single room,on the main road. The room was dark and damp. A single light bulb in a corner ensured a good part of the room remained in shadows. I suspected there was some water seeping in through the roof, for I could hear drops falling on to the floor. One side of the room, against the wall was a stack of old newspapers. In the center of the room was a table with three chairs. One for the doctor and two for the patients who never came.
My father sat on one, while I slowly settled down into the other and promptly fell down. It seemed the chair had only three legs. The villagers might have been simple but they were not fools, they rarely visited Patel, so he had never realized that the extra chair had a broken leg. Father got up and as I was the patient, I got the privilege of sitting down. Father gave him a brief one sentence description of my ailments. Patel held a stethoscope against my chest listened for some time and then started asking questions.
He started by asking about the rain outside and wanted to know if it had stopped. Then he moved on to local, national and international politics. Then he talked about the stock market, of how it had crashed the previous week. Father knew nothing about either politics or the stock market. Years of Army service has that effect on the human mind. Now early in his retired life he had discovered religion. He devoured religious books, what was worse, he would never let go of an opportunity to impress others with his knowledge of the scriptures. It was an interesting conversation, while one person was talking about the latest movies the other was quoting from the holy books, neither listening to the other.
While this intellectually numbing conversation was on, I noticed that, Dr. Patel was also picking out my medicines. Behind his desk, neatly arranged were a line of bottles with tablets of different colors. What was worrying me was that he was just picking bottles at random without so much as a glance. Tablets of all color were lying on the table. He wrote a prescription as well and gave it to father. Father was now into the third chapter of his discourse and Patel had moved over to the political situation in Russia. Finally a reminder that it was getting late, made them reluctantly break up their discussions.
I never ate the tablets, they remained in the same small paper packet in which he had given them,on the top shelf of the cupboard in the main hall. My fever disappeared the next day and life got back to normal.
Over the years, we made many such trips to Dr. Patel’s, discussed Gorbachev, perestroika, the coup in Russia besides some chapters on advanced yoga and its effects on spirituality. Meanwhile on the top shelf of the cupboard in our hall, a collection of small paper packets grew, at least it kept the rats away.
These days Anadhikritapuram has progressed a lot, there are clinics all over, with doctors who actually know how to treat patients and prevent diseases. Dr.Patels clinic remains in the same spot. Though very old now, he still comes in regularly in the morning to open shop and remains inside till late in the evening. The villagers continue to avoid him and the last time I peeped in through the glass door, the chair with three legs still remains in exact same spot.