Sunday, September 30, 2007

Dr. Madhukar Kapoor

The register says 59 patients came today. The last was Rakesh Kumar who didn’t know what to do first, touch Doctor Sahib’s feet or show him his pulse. It’s Dr. Madhukar Kapoor’s last Saturday at the cardiology department in Balrampur Hospital. He’s smiling when tells Rakesh “I’m not going forever!” and turns around to tell the others who are watching him from the door, “There’s only one date you can be sure of as a government servant, the date of your retirement. You don’t know when you will be promoted or transferred, but you know from the date which you join, when you will retire.”

He tells Rakesh to continue his prescribed dosage for another week and to smile. Kumar can’t help but wipe a tear, everyone’s hearts are heavy here today and Jagdish, Dr. Kapoor’s peon is having a hard time trying to keep everyone out. Before he shuts the door as the doctor finally leaves his office, Jagdish surveys the empty chamber, “It’s very hard to see old doctors retire, especially ones as popular as Doctor Sahib.” His popularity is evident, a crowd of comprising close to a hundred people has gathered right outside the cardiology department. “This is the first time a government doctor has been given a farewell by his patients,” says Salim, an old patient of the doctor’s.

As one steps out of the department, an air of melancholy touches one. Octogenarians Badri Prasad Shukla and Yashoda Devi are sitting opposite the little stage that has been built for Dr. Kapoor’s farewell. Yashoda Devi has come from Pratapgarh with her son Captain Pramod to wish her doctor farewell, as the feeble old lady climbs the stage to garland Dr. Kapoor she breaks into tears and blesses him with all her heart. Badri Prasad ji says, “I have been his patient for twenty five years and he has saved my life” before he completes his sentence another patient Uma Shanker pitches in, “He has saved my life twice!” and then he points to a lady sitting in another corner, “that’s my wife Urmila Devi and that’s my son Manoj, they too had heart attacks and doctor sahib saved them!”

Manoj is sitting at Dr. Kapoor’s feet and the doctor is visibly moved and embarrassed by all the attention, he talks quietly to each patient as he hugs them.Uma Shanker continues loudly, in a husky voice “I went to doctor sahib in Barabanki, when he was posted there, I still have the prescription he wrote me!” and this was no less than four years ago. But he lightens up when he remembers, “When I used to get medicines from the counter, the compounders used to tease us because all three of us, my wife, my son and I had suffered heart attacks!” Numerous supporters and well wishers crowd around the doctor bidding him adieu, while others petition to the government to give him a two year extension.

Ashish, Dr. Kapoor’s son is overwhelmed with the affection of the people, he stands between the patients watching his father who’s eyes are now red from far. “My retirement does not mean I’m retiring from you, this is my karam bhoomi, I will come three days a week for two hours to give free consultations, this is my promise.” The crowd cheers him and he continues, “ I am only leaving the hospital, not my patients hearts”. Saying this, he shakes hands with the doctors who have gathered to invite him to Vigyan Bhavan, for his official farewell.

Even as he walks away from the cardiology department, his patients follow him. Ajrunisha watches him walk past as her sister Zeenat remembers vividly the day she was brought here. “Ajrunisha was dying, we took her to the emergency ward and they sent us here. Doctor sahib admitted her immediately and saved my sister’s life”. Zeenat too was treated by the doctor, both sisters who are observing their rozaas felt that it was “important to be here today, for our doctor”. Ajrunisha breaks down and says, “Doctor sahib dil se dekhte the mareezon ko… mohabbat se,” and showers blessings upon him with a heavy heart.

But it is the young intern Dr. Shahnawaz who claims that, “My master is Dr. MK Kapoor, I have learnt everything from him… everything I am is because of him”. He remembers how the doctor taught him to “follow his heart” while making tough decisions. “There was a patient in front me, he was dying and I had just passed out of my MBBS and joined here, I turned to Doctor Sahib but he just stood next to me and said do whatever you think is right, don’t worry I’m here,” reminisces the young man. He adds “The patient survived and I learnt one of the most important lessons in medicine and life from Dr. Kapoor that day, to trust myself and my instinct no matter what is happening around me.” He quickly catches up with the doctor and the patients watch as their doctor waves out to them one last time, reminding them to be strong in their hearts.

In the Express--

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Surfin' Shravasti

The drive from Lucknow to Shravasti is scattered with peaceful sights for the weary traveler. This town, located near the Rapti river in northeastern Uttar Pradesh is of religious significance not only to Buddhists but to Jains as well. The Buddha is said to have spent 24 monsoons in Shravasti while the 'Sobhanath' temple is believed to be the birthplace of Jain Tirthankar 'Sambhavanath'.

Being 150 km from Lucknow, Shravasti has a steady stream of pilgrims through the year. The Lotus Nikko Hotel is a ten minute walk from “Sahet Mahet”. This twin name is applied to two distinct groups of remains, Sahet and Mahet. Raj Pratap, who has been serving as a guard and often guide at the site since for over ten years elaborates, “Sahet is the site of the famous Buddhist monastery known as Jetavana Vihar, which lay outside the limits of the Shravasti city. While Mahet situated at about 500 m from here and it denotes the actual ancient city .” The ruins at Sahet consist mainly of plinths and foundations of monasteries and stupas, all Buddhist.

Buddhists pilgrims from Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Korea and other South East Asian countries visit the age-old stupas, majestic monasteries and several temples near the village of Sahet-Mahet. Nemo Wong and his wife Kieko and their friends are about to end their pilgrimage, “ The tour takes us to all the places of significance to our religion around India, we will end our pilgrimage at Kushinagar” they beam.

The heavy scent of incense comes from under the Anandabodhi tree. “It said to be an offspring of the original Bodhi tree and was planted here by Buddha’s disciple Anand,” explains Raj Pratap. It is awe inspiring to stand in the shade of this sacred tree that has been an eternal witness to the vicissitudes of history. The numerous flags around the tree have been hung by “international pilgrims” he says. “The two main attractions here are the Pakki Kuti and the Kachchi Kuti and it is in Sahet, that Anathpindak, a wealthy merchant, constructed the Jetavana Vihar,” continues the guide who shoos away a platoon of monkeys vying for tidbits thrown by the pilgrims

At Shravasti, the huge “World Peace Bell” or what is commonly known as the “Shanti Ghanti” is another attraction. This bell was donated by the Japanese. The motive was to convey the message of humanity of the Buddha through the bell's toll. The local villagers however visit it every Tuesday and Thursday and consider it no less than a temple. A five foot long log, clasped with iron chains is used to ring this bell!

Apart from the Thai, Sri Lankan, Burmese, Chinese and Korean Buddhist Temples, Aunglimal’s cave is worth a visit for a three sixty degree view of Shravasti! Today a great rampart of earth and brick surrounds this city which has a rich historical and spiritual significance. During excavations in Sahet-Mahet, many ancient idols and inscriptions have been found. They are now kept in museums at Mathura and Lucknow.

It is common to find yourself being blessed by smiling monks clad in orange and maroon, they’re from all over the world.. Thai, Sri Lankan, Korean, Japanese and Indian. Shravasti is a melting pot for Buddhists from all over the world a weekend visit can be most refreshing and often, enlightening.