Brought to heel by healers

Aparna Pallavi faces some inconvenient home truths and gets to know about some easy home remedies for painful medical conditions at a meeting of traditional healers

By Aparna Pallavi
Last Updated: Thursday 11 June 2015

Vaid Aanantram Shrimali checks the pulse of a participant at the traditional healers' meet in Bhopal (photos courtesy CG Net Swara)

“Do you want a cheap remedy for your obesity or an expensive one?” asks elderly Vaid Anantram Shrimali with devastating candidness. To add insult to injury, he is surveying my ample size with a keen interest of the unflattering kind. And I haven’t even told him I need a remedy for this most deflating of my personal attributes. I do, of course, but…

I reply cautiously that I would like to try the cheap one first. “Then just roast some good quality turmeric powder on a tawa (iron griddle), and have a little each night,” he says. “And have a teaspoon full of alsi (linseed) powder morning and evening.”

And what about the expensive one?

“Oh that? Just give me Rs 1,300 per month and do what I say,” he quips, his elderly eyes full of good natured mischief.

“I will get back on that one after I have tried the cheap one,” I reply, making a brave attempt to sidestep the trap I feel is being laid for me.

“Have it your way,” he waves me off. “You will never get started.”

“How do you know?” I can feel my heckles rising.

“I can tell you the expensive remedy also, and I know you won’t try it. You can’t get that fat without being lazy.”

I want to retaliate, but burst out laughing instead. He is absolutely right, of course!

Compared to the eerie, intimidatingly sanitized experience of visiting a posh hospital to meet a renowned medical expert, meeting a traditional healer is a surprisingly refreshing experience that is healing in itself.

Healers from rural communities are colourful people—their knowledge comes packaged with a lot of earthy wit, shrewd judgement of character and an ability to catch you off guard that is reminiscent of street magicians. One has to have one’s wits about in their company. And yet they are some of the most transparently simple people I have ever met.

Traditional healers at the  meet organised by CG Net Swara, where they formed an online network, Swasthya Swara to share traditional healing knowledge and bring scientific recognition to their art

During lunch hour at this healers’ meet in Bhopal, I am surrounded by healers—and remedies. Not a nice place to be in when you can’t take a pencil and write it all down. Jahar Singh Raipur from Tikamgadh in Madhya Pradesh rattles off a long recipe for a panacea for all women’s reproductive problems involving flour of watercress (I thought it was a fruit) and several exotic herbs, but most importantly, cow ghee (clarified butter). I ask him if he would repeat the instructions for me to take down after lunch. He looks at me pityingly, “What will you do with it anyway?” he asks. “Where in your city will you find pure cow ghee?” I nod gravely in agreement. “Never mind. Just get some poi bhaji (Basella rubra), cook it with milk and eat with meals regularly. You will be alright in two months.”

Before I am through with my astonished gulp, there is Chatelal telling me all about how to cure painful haemorrhoids.“Burn some coconut fiber and collect the ash. Have one spoonful a day with buttermilk for a month.”

“Just that?” I ask incredulously. “Ash?”
“Oh, it also prevents cancer if taken on an empty stomach,” he adds calmly.

Back in the women’s dormitory, Ashish Ratre has collected long coils of a thick vine. “Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia). Excellent coolant. Have some,” she says, offering me a large knot of the stuff. “Best thing for women like you.”

“What does that mean, women like me?”

She explains helpfully, “Middle-aged and overweight, nearing menopause, and in danger of getting diabetes. Fatigue, puffy eyes, you know!” I could kill her, or sue her for violation of privacy, but who knows, the remedy might work.

I opt for the more convenient pouch of giloy powder she has in her bag—just have a teaspoonful with water every morning. She shakes her head as she puts away the Rs 50 which is what the pouch costs. “That is the trouble with you city people. I offered you the fresh, good stuff for free, and you want the powder which will cost you and give you just half the benefit. Convenience over everything else.”

I just sigh. I am getting used to being at the receiving end of inconvenient truths.

By evening the pages in my notebook are covered with remedies of all types. Most of them are so simple as to be unbelievable. The only thing more unbelievable is the versatility of each remedy. Body ache? A teaspoon of fenugreek seeds (whole or powdered), morning and evening, all winter. It also reduces cough-cold infections and obesity. Diabetes? A spoonful of fresh linseed powder in your roti dough morning and evening for a year. Also good for constipation and obesity. Utricaria? Pure turmeric powder, a teaspoonful with milk morning and evening for three months. Also good for healing injuries and obesity. Constipation? Chew tender peepul leaves (ficus religiosa) raw, preferably daily. Also good for, well, obesity.

Over evening tea, I wonder aloud why people suffer so much when such simple, cheap remedies are available within everyone’s reach. “Why?” says a voice over my shoulder, “because being ill is a hobby with you city people, that’s why.” I turn around. It is Shrimali, of course, eyes round with merriment in his bearded Santa-Claus face.  Sigh! That is the inconvenient truth to beat all inconvenient truths.

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