The Family Doctor
“Look, look, he is waking up, it is a wonder!,” someone yelled as Sohan Lal tended to his first official patient lying comatose in bed. Dr Sohan Lal to be technically correct, had just come back home after graduating from a medical college in Lahore.
An urgent distress call had him rushing to look up Ramdin who had gone into a coma, post a fall from his horse. All local doctors and quacks combined had tried their level best for the last two days to treat him but to no avail. Finally someone suggested Sohan Lal’s name as a last option and that is how he found himself at Ramdin’s bedside.
The story goes that in absence of his medical kit, all that Sohan Lal did was to repeatedly caress Ramdin on his forehead while calling out his nickname Ramu. And yet the miracle happened within 15-20 minutes of his common-sense effort. Ramdin was on his feet in a couple of hours and the whole episode established the newly-minted doctor as a miracle healer in the small community of Wazirabad.
For those who knew Sohan Lal, this was nothing unexpected. Sohan Lal’s father Dr Ghasita Mal was a medical officer in the British Raj railways. Coming back tired after a hard day’s work, he would always find his son Sohan comforting him by pressing his feet before going to bed at night. While doing so, Sohan would often inquire about the patients he had seen that day and the treatment that he had meted out to them.
Dr Ghasita would share the day’s proceedings with his beloved son who would soak in all the free medical and pharmaceutical knowledge on offer like a sponge. So actually, by the time he was selected for medical college, Sohan Lal was way ahead in his journey towards becoming a doctor.
Of course midway, he had barely survived a Bubonic plague as a teenager when he had to be operated without anaesthesia on an emergency basis. The multiple physical scars of the surgery and so also its horrid memories remained for a lifetime. What also remained firm was his resolve to ease pain for others.
Sohan Lal’s private practice in Wazirabad kicked off immediately with a small line of patients always present outside his clinic. Unfortunately, the partition occurred and he migrated lock, stock and barrel to India along with his ever-growing family.
While the family took shelter in a Refugee colony of Delhi, Sohan Lal set about re-establishing himself. He found someone to rent out a shop to him in Old Delhi for a princely rent of ten rupees per month, which he converted into a clinic.
Such was his blessed hand, that patients used to recover with minimal medicines and very soon the waiting lines re-appeared. The local Muslim women formed a large part of his clientele. The challenge was to diagnose them by just asking questions or feeling their pulse from their hands outstretched from their burqas, hence his popularity as the ‘Nadi wallah doctor’ or the pulse doctor.
Working seven days a week, 365 days a year, Dr Sohan Lal used to take off only on Sunday evenings. That evening was reserved for watching the latest spicy Bollywood movie along with his dear wife and one grandchild in tow. That was his way of letting his hair down. Such was his dedication, that he could be routinely found writing ‘free of charge’ prescriptions for all and sundry even during family functions.
Coming late from clinic was the norm as he would never leave without seeing the last patient who had registered. In fact, in a wedding of one of his his own daughter, he arrived just minutes before the ‘phera‘ ceremony with the whole crowd waiting for him. Unapologetic, he entered the mandap area asking, “Mainu kithe baina hai? Meaning, “Where do I have to sit?”
All his patients were one big family for him. That is the way, he used to interpret the term ‘family doctor’. As was the norm those days, he knew the family history of each of his patients and their ancestors. Dutifully recorded in his big fat red-coloured register, every interaction with his patients was documented for posterity. It was not unusual for him to scold some of them rather harshly if they had not adhered to the prescribed dosage or food restrictions that he had recommended. No one ever felt bad about his berating, in fact they loved him for it.
Dr Sohan Lal continued to actively practice till very late in life. However, one thing he just could not stand was anyone calling him an old man. One particular day his entire family had a hearty laugh when at the age of about 75, he was relating an incident about a particular patient, “Aj mere clinic wich ik budha aaya, panja-pachpan saal da hoyega…” Meaning, “An old man came to my clinic today, must be about 50-55 years old.” Such was his attitude in life even during his sunset years!
Finally his health failing, Dr Sohan Lal breathed his last at 88 years of his life. Dr Pritam his friend since the partition days, summed up his life so beautifully:
“Given an opportunity and a will to put in hard work, anyone can become a doctor. However, for a doctor to become a healer, he needs to immerse his heart and soul into this profession. My karamyogi friend, Dr Sohan Lal was born to heal.”
Dr Sohan Lal Hora left for his heavenly abode exactly three decades back. By a conservative estimate, he examined 55 (years of practice)*50 (cases per day)* 330(av working days that he put in a year)=Approx 9,07,500 cases in his lifetime.
My fondest memory of my grandfather is tagging along with him to watch the blockbuster movie ‘Sholay’. He remains my everlasting superhero.
First published at seekmediation.com on 18/07/21
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