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Touch and Go

There I was, returning from what I wish was a night on the town, but actually turned out to be a long discussion on the disposal of some low-value ancestral property, out of which I would be thankful to emerge debt-free. My ancestors were not exactly like Warren Buffet when it came to making investments. Anyway, there I was climbing the stairs to my modest first floor abode when it hit me. Well, since I didn’t know what hit me, I can’t exactly recall what happened, but suddenly I was crawling up the stairs on my hands and knees. I made it in that fashion to my door, opening which I could no longer keep myself up on my hands and knees. Crawling on my belly, I closed the door and crept into bed – which thankfully is a mattress on the floor. Too tired to work anything out, I went to sleep, hoping I would be able to get up in the morning.

Morning came in a blaze of sunshine and the sweet cacophony of birdsong. I woke with a start, passing instantly from totally asleep to fully awake. The sunshine streaming through the open window was hitting me right in the face. I tried to get up and found myself unable to move. My feet were totally useless, while I could move my arms a bit. I was worried now, and by dint of wriggling my body and moving what I could of my arms, got to my mobile phone, which was lying nearby. Not without difficulty, I managed to call a friend and tell him my position. Within the hour, he and a couple of others arrived, all of them doctors, just like me. They tried giving me something to enable me to move so that they could get me to a hospital. Nothing seemed to work, so they bundled me up, put me in a car and took me to a hospital that specialised in treating spinal stuff.

“Disk prolapse,” the doctor told me cheerfully. He could have been my junior in Medical College, and had he really been one of my juniors, would not have been so cheerful in conveying the news to me.

“It’s really bad. No way you’re going to be able to ride a bike again. Or lift heavy weights. You’ll have to stay here for a week for observation. Then we’ll see what to do with you. We could medicate it. If you don’t respond then it’ll have to be surgery. Either way, you can never return to hundred percent normal.”

Maybe this guy had been my junior. And maybe I did some particularly nasty things to him. And this was his way of taking revenge, taking delight in my misery. I told him to give me the medication, and that I’d take it myself at home. There was no way I was going to take this, and even if I had to be hospitalized, it would be in another hospital.

And so I found myself at my parents’ house, taking the medication and being subjected to all kinds of curbs. The worst bit was not being able to smoke, or get a drink whenever I felt like it, or just stepping out for some fresh air. Staying home and medicating myself did not work. The pain never went away, and the constant over-the-shoulder watchfulness of my parents did nothing to hasten the healing process. The week was over and it was time to take myself back to the doctor and be subjected to his happy ruminations on my condition.

It was at this time that a memory from some distant conversations I had in passing with two different people clicked within me. Both were people I knew, just acquaintances in the way of business really. And both had no reason to lie to me. Both had spoken of having terribly complicated illnesses that had been cured by a visit to a particular traditional doctor who lived under the hill. He was a practitioner of the ancient art of varmam, and was supposedly very good. I resolved to visit him, not really basing the decision on any sound reason. My week was up and I had to do something.

Of course my mother wouldn’t hear of it. My father did, and he too wouldn’t have it. Both being doctors didn’t help a bit, and it was after a blazing row that I left home. The person who was to take me to the doctor was not a doctor himself, but nevertheless felt it his duty to tell me that he didn’t really agree with my decision. Thankfully, after that he didn’t say much. I still cannot recall whether I voiced my desire that he shut up or not – you see, I was in too much pain.

As the auto rickshaw puttered to a halt in front of the address I was looking for, I was more than a bit disappointed. It was a small independent house, maybe fifteen or twenty years old. The walls were covered with a black moss, and the garden in front was in a state of disuse. In front of this domiciliary disaster sat a small thin fellow in a rickety old chair. He was unshaven and his shirt was open up to his belly. He was smoking a beedi, which he unhurriedly crushed beneath his bathroom-slippered feet before walking up to us. On enquiring about the doctor, he dealt a further blow to my confidence by telling me that he was the varmam practitioner.

It was with reluctance that I followed him into his “consulting room.” This was nothing but the sit-out, as it is called in this part of the world, of his house. Now, here I was, having fought with my parents, and discarded the oath I had sworn as a doctor, at this man’s place, and he was not exactly inspiring me. But however, that ego that stands stiff within most of us – well, definitely within me – made me go on.

While my friend waited outside, I went in. There was a straw mat spread out on the floor, and the varmam practitioner told me to lie down on it on my belly. I did so not without some difficulty. I was feeling particularly bad because that is the position from which I could not get up. Then he went to work, touch points on my shoulder, my back, my thighs – but never on the spinal column itself. The feeling of his touches was quite indescribable – it was as though he was touching spots deep inside the skin, muscle and bone. While not exactly painful, they were not exactly pleasurable either. After about fifteen minutes of this, he took a bottle of oil and applied it gently on my spine.

Then, he stood back, and looking at me, asked me to get up. As I said before, this was the position from which I could not get up, in which I was stuck all night and from which I still could not get up. I turned my head, looked up at him and told him I could not. He just smiled and said that now I could stand up, and all I had to do was just try. Well, well well, one just had to play along and humour this guy. So I tried to get up, and to my surprise, I could get up. I stood up and slowly stretched myself. All the stiffness was gone, and I felt totally recovered.

I was so zapped that I could not even ask the varmam guy anything. He himself volunteered the information that I was fully cured, and I could go back to doing anything I was doing before. When I persisted and asked him if I could ride a bike, if I could lift weights, if I could climb stairs, he said I could stand on my head all day if I wanted to. He also told me that usually he only needed a single sitting to cure things, but that my case was a severe one which required one more sitting. I left after promising to return a week later.

Now I seem to be fully cured, and feel a lot more agile than I was before.