My son’s college mate, now an IAS officer, got posted as panchayat officer to our native place in Himachal Pradesh’s Kangra district. Bountiful in ethereal beauty, Pragpur also has an amalgam of medieval manor houses and ancient heritage buildings that have won it the tag of country’s first heritage village.
During his brief stint there, he had gathered a bagful of fond memories to carry home. By a quirk of fate, his doctor spouse also got her first posting as medical officer at the village government hospital near his office. Raised in Delhi’s urban environs, she had to slug it out while dealing with her patients, a majority of them unlettered, because of language barrier. She shared the anecdotes with us when the couple came over one Sunday. The stories convulsed us with laughter.
She told us how a septuagenarian once walked into her chamber by jumping the queue and said in chaste Pahari: “Doctor Sahib, minjo paachh lagiyo kanne mera bura haal vaanke dhiyarey… mein bara pareshan (Doctor Sahib, some rogue rashes have got on my nerves and I am very upset).” She looked askance at him, unable to make out what he had said.
As she was trying to make sense of his incoherent murmur, a middle-aged woman trooped into the chamber and announced, nonchalantly: “Doctor Saab, minjo bhyaga bhyaga haul ponda kanney dil bara ghabranda… mein kiya karaan (I feel so hungry in the early hours as if not fed for days. I end up gasping for breath. What do I do)?” Her gibberish rant, too, proved a riddle for the doctor. Meanwhile, the other patients stuck in the queue grew restive. One of them hollered: “Eh doctornian de rishtedar hunn kya? Assan bhyaga de laina’ch kharoteyo (Are they doctor’s kin? We have been waiting for our turn since morning).” Seeing the doctor’s dilemma, a paramedic pitched in and saved the day. She told the doctor in brief about their medical conditions, enabling her to prescribe medicines. The paramedic became her permanent “guide” thereafter. This was her first day at the hospital.
Since it was the only hospital in a densely-populated area, the number of patients kept multiplying, and so did her problems of handling them. To make her a bit comfortable, some of the patients would mix their Pahari dialect with a dash of broken Hindi, making it an altogether new language. The encounters led her to cut on her socialising for obvious reasons.
Once she asked an old woman in the pink of her health about her fitness “mantra”. The woman returned a cryptic one-liner: “Bachcha mein kya kasidey kadhne, eh taan prabhu di kirpa ei (Child, what should I tell you? It’s all by the grace of God).” The doctor had to leave in a huff, shooting a Mona Lisa smile.
In spite of all odds, she shared an amazing camaraderie with her patients. She was unable to grasp their dialect but their humility and hospitality, which she remembered long after her transfer to a premier Delhi hospital, had taught her the language of people’s hearts.
The writer is a Chandigarh-based freelance contributor.