Letter from the hills: More than an apple a day

‘What happens in a medical emergency?’ Any Johnny-come-to-town-lately will always ask.

‘Go to a witch-doctor!’ I feel like snapping, but bite my tongue.

That was true in the 1960s. There were quacks to the left; quacks to the right; and we were a village pond of quacks. We had Dr Bahaduri who specialised in matters sexual. He even had twin billboards atop his tin-roof, one had a sleeping lion and the other - after a visit to the doctor’s no doubt - the pride of Africa roaring at the sky.

Until the local police came visiting.

‘What have I done?’ The doctor muttered.

The answer was in the warrant. A man - alive and kicking - had been certified dead. Trouble was the wife had claimed the insurance and decamped. Our doctor was produced before a magistrate.

‘Arrey doctor Sa’ab! What’s happened?’ asked the old judge, recognising the doctor from the days of an errant youth.

‘I’ve certified as dead a man but he’s alive.’

Letter from the hills: More than an apple a day

‘How did you do that?’

‘Blame the night! Strangers dragged me to a room,” he recalled. ‘There lay a man. They gave me a name, I wrote down. Can a dead man tell you his name?’

‘Ah! Mistaken identity!’ the magistrate pounded his gavel. ‘Bail granted.’

For the rest of his days, our doctor refused house calls. He turned dog-breeder. That went well until the time one of the black dogs, when shampooed, revealed a golden coat.

But that’s another tale for another day.

Today, if one is unwell, one goes to the Landour Community Hospital, built by missionaries eighty years ago. It provides help that few plush hospitals can.

Take for instance, September 2, 1994 – a day laser burnt into collective memory twenty-six years ago. The hills had plunged headlong into the Uttarakhand Movement.

There were innumerable rallies, processions, sit-ins and bandhs. Noontime things came to a head and carried by the breeze, the distinct crack of gunshots shattered the calm as the Provincial Armed Constabulary opened fire.

‘Chand Sa’ab! Chand Sa’ab!’ the words tumbled out of my mouth, jostling and bumping into one another in a frantic haste to get spoken. Breathlessly, I stuttered to the hospital administrator: ‘Police firing. Seven dead! Two dozen injured!’

‘Oh! What can l do with three doctors?’ Pale as a sheet, he stammered.

‘Use your telephone!’ I waffled.

Fortunately, the landlines worked. Six doctors - mostly parents visiting children studying in the hillside schools - were tracked down, even as the stretchers ferried 18 with grievous bullet wounds poured through the door to receive medical aid.

Not a single life was lost. That’s where we go when we need more than an apple a day.

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