Muhammad Ghayas has shed a lot of blood in the backyard of Delhi’s Jama Masjid. And he has kept record of his bloodletting in the form of twenty 15-litre cans, each filled with shaving blades cleaved into two.
“Each half of a blade equals a patient,” says Ghayas. “You can see how many people have come for treatment since 1980, when I started the practice.”
Ghayas, 72, is Delhi’s only known practitioner of bloodletting or venesection, one of the oldest medical practices in which ‘impure blood’ is drawn out to treat diseases. His grandfather, a Naqshbandi sufi and a venesection expert, initiated him.
According to the Greek system of medicine, ailments are caused by a disturbance in the four elemental body fluids — blood, phlegm, black bile and yellow bile. Ghayas only treats diseases set off by “accumulation of bad blood in circulation”, such as rheumatic heart diseases, diabetes, lumbago, arthritis, erratic blood pressure and neck pains.
The procedure is simple. After tying a patient’s arm or leg with a rope like a tourniquet, the healer asks him to walk a bit, preferably in the sun, while flexing limbs to help circulation. Then Ghayas, or his son Iqbal, makes rapid cuts on a vein as required. The blood trickles out. Iqbal says the darker the blood, the more a patient must bleed.
In this arcane therapy, Ghayas makes an allopathic exception — the patient must take a tetanus injection before the therapy. In there’s pain after the cuts, he is advised antibiotic capsules and antiseptic creams.
Avneesh Batra, 46, a businessman from Faridabad, had a long history of cardio-vascular problems and had been to some expensive corporate hospitals before a friend suggested Rahat Open Surgery, Ghayas’s open-air hospital.
“It took me a while to convince myself. I have received cuts for 20 days now at intervals and really feel relaxed. The pain has subsided greatly,” Batra says.
Ghayas employs seven assistants—for tying ropes, pouring cold water over the bleeding cuts, washing blood off the pavement, arranging benches and keeping record of patient visits. Most of the fees, Rs 300 a sitting, pay their salaries. There are no holidays. Patients were treated even on the days Ghayas’s five children were married.
“I don’t practice for money. My son has a shop that sells schoolbags. We also sell a toothpowder called Rahat Dantmanjan,” Ghayas says.
He produces a thick dossier of letters of gratitude from patients and testimonies of recovery, some of them appended with grim x-ray or ultrasound reports of earlier allopathic treatments.
“I and my wife Durr-e-Shahwar were suffering from pain in the joint, back, and neck... After treatment at Ghayas sahib’s clinic, we feel much better,” wrote Riaz, a tennis coach with the Sports Authority, on December 14, 2000.
After letting the seven patients of the day bleed, Ghayas prepares for the noon prayers, and says, “Shouldn’t the government recognise this as a form of treatment? Are not those 20 tins an evidence enough?”