Doctor for all

Dedicated to the growing tribe of unemployed doctors who will soon outnumber other constituents of the general population

2019: Almost everyone, if not everyone, in Kashmir has dreamed or desired to be a doctor at some or the other point of his or her life. Scratch a police officer or a shopkeeper or a clerk or a teacher and there are high chances that you might find a wanted-to-be-a-doctor inside. In fact in Kashmir of all the make-believe games that parents encourage among their little children playing ‘Doctor-Doctor’ easily tops the list. 2019 saw a tremendous increase in the number of medical seats in the state so much so that it looked possible that while Kashmir might or might not realize the slogan of ‘Health for all’ pretty soon it would instead have a ‘Doctor for all’ on home to home basis! The whole population of Kashmir was overjoyed by this abundance…well…the whole population except perhaps a couple of thousand of doctors who haven’t yet been able to land a job and feel that it is unlikely that they ever will.

20 years later…

I return to the ‘paradise on earth’ after a long period of wanderings elsewhere…It is a bustling place…there is more of everything…more people, more cars, more dogs, more filth, more dust… and yet there is less too…less trees, less birds…there are flyovers under construction and there are flyovers nearing completion…I have yet to taste the real change though…my first brush with it comes as I visit this drug store…

Age has brought many an ailment in its wake so my first stop after leaving the airport is at a drug store to get my prescribed regimen of tablets and capsules. The counter guy hands over my pack of medicines and the bill. It comes to slightly over 10,000 rupees. He says with a smile, “You get a free gift for purchases above 10,000.”  I thank him and wait for the free gift. I watch idly as a shop salesman comes out of the backroom holding a white-aproned guy’s hand. “Here you are Sir,” he says. I can’t understand what all he means. “What is this? I mean who is he?”

“It is your free gift. He is a doctor sir,” the salesman says, “and he is all yours for one month, your very own personal doctor.”

For a moment I think these people must be pulling my leg but they are real earnest. “I am just a visitor, don’t know where I will be staying and all that,” I tell the counter guy. “I think I will forego the well…er… free gift.”

The counter guy just shrugs his shoulders. “Your choice, sir. You can have this coupon instead,” he says handing me a cash coupon for 100 rupees redeemable on my next purchase. The white-apron revolution is for real, I think as I leave the shop. My next stop is at a fruit-sellers cart. As I survey the fruit a white-apron wearing young fellow appears by my side and says, “May I help you sir.” I think it is just someone trying to be polite. I smile at the guy and address the fruit-seller sitting on a stool beside the cart. “How much for these oranges?”

The fruit-seller just smiles and instead it is the white-aproned guy who responds, “Just 300 rupees a dozen sir, which is a steal really if you consider what you getting. Oranges are a rich source of Vitamin C which is an important anti-oxidant, retards ageing and reduces the risk of colon cancer. It also contains flavanones like hesperidin which lowers blood pressure and cholesterol… Shall I pack two dozen for you?”

I am struck speechless by his torrent of information. “Uh…yes…that is Ok. Tell me,” I ask him, “are you a doctor?”

“Of course sir,” he says taking out a laminated certificate from his pocket, “You can check for yourself sir.”

“No! No! It is alright. I was just asking…” I stammer.

“Here take a look at these apples sir. Apples reduce cholesterol and stimulate pancreas to produce more insulin so you see these are beneficial for diabetes as well. How many shall I pack sir?”

It is too much for me. I want to get rid of this nutrition bulletin so I pick up a single apple and say, “Just this one, that too because ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’!” He does not even smile at my joke.

The apple however fails to keep the doctors away. Later in the day when I visit a barber for a haircut there is a doctor to check my blood pressure. “I have employed two of them and introduced this special service for my customers,” the barber informs me.

The next day I decide to visit the village where I possess some land. As our car stops at a red-light, I roll down the window to let in fresh air. “Don’t!” my cousin shouts but the warning is too late. A stethoscope snakes in and starts examining my chest. I hurriedly hand the guy a 50 rupee note and close the window.

It is late evening by the time I get to visit my orchard. The fruit crop has already been harvested and the trees are bare. I feel at peace here. There is nobody around. Not even a doctor. I climb a walnut tree which is covered with dense foliage and give it a mighty shake. I hear a ‘plonk’ and two ‘thuds’ as one walnut and two doctors fall out of the tree…

(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!). You can record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, at [email protected])