Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The curious case of the nosy healer

Quasi imaginary conversation with a ‘city slicker’.
Me: “What do you do when you are sick?”
Him: “Pop a pill.. stupid”
Me: “Umm.. what if there are no pills?”
Him: “Guess I’ll just have to go to the 24 hr pharmacy or go to the doc’s chamber”
Me: “Lets say there is no pharmacy, 24 hour or 2 hours. Lets say there isn’t a doctor’s chamber. Lets say there isn’t a damn doctor at all and lets say you’re so far away from the nearest pharmacy that it’ll take you two days just to reach there if you walk. And you will have to walk because, lets say there are no vehicles.”
Silence. More silence.
Him: “Lets say I hit you on the head with this <expletive> hockey stick? Would that be enough to shut your <expletive> <expletive> <expletive> mouth and your <impressive expletive> questions?”
Needless to say, I decided to quasi-stop the quasi-imaginary conversation. But think about it. Its not so far from reality as you may think. People staying in remote villages face such situations across the country, and since northeast India is especially badly connected with remote areas, our joke is their reality.
I meet a fair share of interesting people during visits to such areas, but none are more interesting than the traditional healers and masseurs found in these villages (see story on the ojha of Garo Hills). They are the medicine men and women of the villages, using a combination of herbal medicine, massage, acupressure, and folk remedies to put an MD to shame. You may very well use the ‘Q’ word and call them quacks, but the villagers will tell you innumerable tales of how people were cured and even ‘brought back from the jaws of death’ by them.
So, there I was in a Monpa village called Mukto, 80 kilometres from Tawang at my friend Sangay’s house. There was so much beauty around, I was overdosing on it. The buddhist ethic meant that you woke up in the morning with laughing thrushes hopping around and … and well, laughing at your dropped jaw (this is worth mentioning as the most bird-brained bird would think twice before coming anywhere near any village in northeast India, unless they wanted to end up as barbecue'). Live and let live really happened here. But I digress.
Sangay had hurt his back the previous day trying to lift something heavy, making his old hernia injury flare up again. The sub-zero temperatures at night didn’t help the cause. There was ‘supposed’ to be one government doctor in the village. As happens very frequently in remote areas, he was not interested in spending his time in a village and had been untraceable for the last few days. So, we had to meet meme Wangchu (pronounced maymay, meaning ‘grandfather’ in Monpa language).
As we wove through the small alleys separating the stone and mud houses in the early morning chill, Sangay turned to me and said “you may be surprised”. It was an understatement. We knocked and entered the dark room with just one small wood fire with a huge kettle perched on top of it. A man was bending over the fire with the traditional Monpa yak hair cap on his head. As he lifted his face up, I could see that his nose wasn’t a nose anymore. It was almost like he had started morphing into an elephant with the nose lengthening itself into a trunk.
After the initial talk and introductions, Sangay told him his problem. He rolled Sangay’s T shirt up and felt around for what seemed like pressure points and tangled nerve points. After identifying his target spot, he kept one finger on it and with the other hand lifted a burning log out of the fire. He spat once on his index finger, took the orange coals and pressed his finger into it. He kept it there for a very long time until his finger too seemed to be glowing and smoking. This glowing finger he jammed into the target spot which happened to be in my friend’s back. I could see Sangay biting his lips in the pain. Meme repeated this a few more times at two other points. The treatment was declared over, for the day. Sangay was advised to come everyday and get a hot jab in his back. His face wore a grim look. We were then offered some butter tea. As we headed back from meme Wagchuk's house, I asked Sangay how he was feeling . “Better. I think”.
The following day the pain returned and we had to ride a bike in zero degrees to the nearest town (Jang) only to find that both the doctor’s there too were away. And to top it all off, the only medical shop in the town didn’t even have a painkiller. But that's another story. I did do some research on meme’s condition and it seems like its a bad case of Rhinophyma. I remembered him lifting his nose up to drink his butter tea. It didn't seem to bother him half as much as it was bothering me. Atleast he was there, when nobody else was. The people of Mukto sleep peacefully knowing that doctors may come and go, but meme Wangchuk will always be there for them.
PS: I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was an attempt to have a meeting of all the ethnomedicine practitioners in Arunachal recently. I hope meme Wangchuk went for it. Read about it here:


karthee said...

Very nice article...these guys, the medicine men of the villages are really talented. This ojha guy in Hangspal aking you wrote about earlier even had his own small farm of paphiopedilums! and well, in the adi hills too the medicine women, sometimes referred to as 'jadu buri' have a very big role to play. they are supposed to even be able to summon and talk to spirits! will write about them sometime. i am sure u have lots more to tell from your last visit, write off quickly! cheers...

Purba said...

I suspect Wangchu tried the glowing effect on his nose before he moved on to his finger.

What a way to heal!

Btw loved the way you spelt Dogmatix :)

Dawgmatix said...

@Karthee.. thanks for the info... and yeah you bet I have lots more to write about. You should know ;-)
@Purba..Thanks for visiting and yeah Wangchu's nose must have given rise to plenty of such speculation in the village too :)...but he really was a gem of a person.. never charged a penny for all this treatment! As for dawgmatix, would you believe that it was because dogmatix wasn't available.. and thats the truth! :)

sp said...

Brilliant stuff!

kerala flowerplaza said...

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