Some two decades ago, after two sessions of tending to me for my chronic malaria, the Bengali doctor from suburban Versova became pretty pally with me. One day after my due fix he asked me to stay back for a chat. He had no patients waiting outside. We got talking about all sorts of things under the sun. I recall that he was particularly articulate about his disappointment in Jyoti Basu’s performance in his native state.
A poorly dressed, middle aged man walked in with unsteady gait, obviously very ill. Unsummoned,he took his seat on the stool placed beside the doctor. He mourned how feverish he would get at night, how tired he was all through the day, and had awful pain all over his body. The doctor gave him a packet of tablets I recognized so well and advised him to rest till he felt better. He would RECOVER in the next three days If he took the tablets regularly, he assured the man.
The man accepted the medicines gratefully, but didn’t move from his seat. The doctor then got up, picked up a syringe from a small boiler placed behind him, drew out some liquid from a bottle and gave the man an injection. The man winced, but looking quite satisfied, placed a five-rupee note on the table. The physician pocketed the note and returned three rupees. He had charged me five for the tablets; I got no injection either.
When the man had gone out and beyond hearing, I asked, “ Weren’t those symptoms of malaria, like mine?”
“Yes,” said the physician. “You are wondering about the injections? I didn’t charge him for that pure distilled water. These poor illiterate people have great faith in injections. Unless you give them a ‘sooi’ – needle- they wouldn’t believe that you had really treated them, that they would be cured without the needle. He would feel cheated. His malaria would be cured by quinine, but he would still go to a quack to get that needle shot. It’s like religion. Quinine heals, sooi satisfies, It works like opium.”
Two decades ago, doctor or otherwise, , satisfied with Jyoti Basu or not, a Bengali and Karl Marx were never far apart.
I said that instead of giving the poor man false faith, he should have educated the man. Unless he knew that the injection was fake, he might go directly to the quack next time, hoping to heal himself giving the quack just one rupee instead of the two he gave the doctor.
“Educating him would be no use,” said the doctor. “That kind of education will earn me a bad name and poor practice among these folks. I charge them very little; do not charge for the useless injection, yet manage to earn a living.”
Back home, I tried to tell the logic of it to my wife who was getting ready to take me to the temple for praying for my recovery.
I said :
Quinine with prayer cures malaria.
Prayer without quinine does not cure.
Quinine without prayer would cure. (Try me).
So let’s skip the noisy temple and stay home while I take my quinine.
Nevertheless, she dragged me to the noisy temple. She prayed for me while I winced at the clanging of bells and hymns eulogizing the violent streak of a god called Madhu-killer who tortured a snake, sucked a woman’s nipple till she bled to death and killed his uncle, among many other valourous and amorous exploits.
I am still married.
Moral of this story: Religion might not save your marriage. Tolerance to religion might.