When I first saw Bhatti, he was reading a women's digest: you know the kind that preach that suffering is a sign of women's nobility and all men are demigods etc.
I was suffering from typhoid/malaria/diarrhea or some similar ailment. (Cannot recall the exact circumstances that made the unfortunate meeting inevitable.) He jabbed me unceremoniously with an injection. I shed copious tears at this inhuman treatment (literally). He guffawed. Insensitive, inhuman lout!
"How old is your niece?" he inquired in a clearly amused voice from my phupo , the one who had been responsible for taking me to his 'shop'. (Old enough to know that you are a quack, you moron! I shouted in my head, but remained silent otherwise.) End of meeting no. one.
Let me take you to a tour of his shop first, before I enumerate the miracles of medical science performed there. I vividly recall that during our first fateful meeting his shop (clinic?) consisted of one rickety table, a couple of chairs, one bench and bottles of suspicious looking medicine; all of this in the veranda of a house he was renting at that time. Now he has a proper 'dukaan' of his own/,a bit small but much smarter than the previous franchise. Two small step lead to this altar of medical science. The entrance of the shop is covered with a cloth curtain.Inside the shop, right next to the front wall is glass top table and a chair: that's where our man usually sits while examining his patients. (Otherwise, in leisure time, he can usually be found hanging around the chowk, inside or outside the local general store). There are 2 long,adjoined benches next to wall on his right side. Over the benches and on the wall behind Bhatti's chair, are long shelves with sliding glass doors that hold bottles and boxes of various description: a veritable hanging pharmacy.Clearly, the guy has done exceedingly well in the last decade or so (since our first encounter).
And in the above mentioned 3-walled, small area (the fourth side is a cloth curtain,remember?) he offers following services:
- diagnosis and treatment of all sort of seasonal ailments
- bandaging minor cuts and wounds
- treating abscesses, and many infections
- extract tooth/teeth (whichever applies)
- removing moles, small cysts etc.
- various forms of minor surgeries
He expresses regret over not being able to perform major surgeries because he doesn't have the required equipment. (Apparently, lack of relevant qualifications doesn't seem to bother him much.) He's pretty confident of his skills. Last year, his wife had a cholesystectomy '(gall bladder removal). For days, he moped about how he couldn't perform the ritual himself. Yes, you guessed it correctly: lack of required equipment.
I think he richly deserves his nickname: 'Dr. Don't Worry'. Don't worry is his favorite refrain. No matter how much pain you are in, whether you are suffering from a minor illness or are on your deathbed. Bhatti would soothingly tell you, 'don't worry'. I suspect he's the sort of doctor (that's what everyone in the village calls him so...) who after killing someone by administration of wrong medicine will cheerfully remind you that at least the patient is not suffering anymore.
I don't recall what his former occupation was. Though one of my cousin claims he used to steal chicken from neighboring village. The cousin's own reputation is quite questionable. Besides, he loves to troll you so you cannot take anything he says at face value. I vaguely recall hearing that he was an electrician, or maybe a bicycle repair guy?? I fail to spot a connection between any of the aforementioned two professions and medical profession. The people in the village think otherwise.
He is not the only quack though. The village is swarming with these guys. The other resident quacks are:
- Dr. Allah Rakha (though he has handed over his 'consultancy' to his elder son now)
- Dr. Saeed, the successor of Dr. Allah Rakha. Dr. Saeed is generally considered to be a very 'wise' doctor, and a 'specialist' of diarrhea. He also enjoys additional fame because of the scandalous circumstances surrounding his marriage with the lovely L.
- Dr. Gondal. Alas, poor Dr. Gondal is more famous for his polygamy, rather than his healing abilities or poetic sensibilities. Yes, our man writes poetry too. Haven't been exposed to his poetry though, so cannot comment on that.
- Dr. Karela (I honestly don't know what his real name is). But he is actually the local schoolmaster, and only a part time quack. And if I remember correctly, acts as the local post master too. All mail, addressed to anyone in the village arrives at his place, which he distributes at whim. Sometimes it takes several weeks/months for the mail to reach the correct recipient. Exactly what takes the mail so long to reach, and what happens to it in the interim is a total mystery.
But regardless of their backgrounds, all of them employ more or less same methods for treating their patients:
Method 1: wrap up an assortment of various coloured capsules and tablets in a small plastic bag; and hope that one of them will cure the patients.
Method 2: If the above method fails, the next step is administration of injections. In fact, the gaonwallahs rather prefer the injections over assortment of capsules and tablets. We are a nation that love quick, short term solutions, heedless to the long term side effects.
Method 3:And if both of the former fail, or the patient insists on an even quicker remedy (usually women) then follows the series of 'drips'. I've always wondered exactly what about the intravenous drips fascinates women so much. Perhaps, it's the brief period of totally being confined to bed,while the drip slowly continues to slowly introduce innocuous looking fluid into your body. Not to mention how you immediately become the focus of everyone's attention. Both of which are rare for women in general I guess.
In case, the reader is wondering why the village folk don't go to proper doctors when they fall ill, the answer is simply obvious, (or obviously simple??):there are none in the area. Unless you count the ones in Narowal, which physically is not too far away. But keeping in view the perennially broken roads, lack of proper transport, poor situation of law and order which make travelling at night even more difficult than usual;the combined cost of all of the above makes it nearly impossible for poor patients with little or no financial resources except revenues from yearly crops, provided they do well. In comparison, it's much more affordable to just go to the local quack, who for a paltry fee will not only examine you but also handout the necessary medicines. Additionally, many people who cannot afford to pay off even this paltry sum, end up opening a 'debt account' at the local quacks. The easiest way to settle a debt is to bring food-grains/milk/by products of milk.
The level of healthcare available to people living in rural areas is appalling. If you are lucky enough,and can afford it, you have to run to Lahore for treatment of even minor illnesses. Our governments have never really invested seriously in the health sector. The healthcare offered in major cities like Lahore etc. in itself is deplorable (talking about state run facilities), situation is considerably worse in the rural areas.
Loss of life, high mortality rate especially among infants, poor antenatal and neonatal care are norms. People barely manage to scrape by enough to make the both ends meet, healthcare is a luxury to many.In the end, many end up dying for lack of proper medical care. Jokes apart, I am sure,consumption of medicines prescribed by the quacks makes slow inroads into your system, leading to complicated illness later in life. Mercifully, many never even discover it and die quietly at homes, by unknown diseases.
But let me remind you that these concerns don't bother the village folks. They have unflinching faith in the quacks. Bhatti enjoys huge popularity, despite the fact that once he almost killed poor Kubrah Bibi with administration of a wrong injection. Kubrah fell unconscious after this. Bhatti fled. He's reported to have been asking everyone from the village he met at Narowal's railway station,'Is everything in the village alright?" Kubrah Bibi survived the incident and is still a happy and satisfied customer of Dr. Don't Worry!
Note: Shop*: I've noticed that not only in the villages but in cities as well, people refer to small, private clinics as dukaan or shop. Personally speaking, I find it oddly apt. After all, for most, medical profession is just a profitable business. They aren't their to heal people, but to sell their wares and services for an agreed upon sum of money. I have even seen rates list hanging in many such shops.
Additional Note: This belongs to an abandoned series of essays that Beebly had once meant to write, to depict various aspect of rural life. I cannot promise, if the series will now be completed. For I don't want to make promises I may not be able to keep.