Dr. Amitabh Mitra
Amitabh Mitra is an Orthopaedic Surgeon/Aviation Medicine Expert working in a major hospital in East London in South Africa. His poetry has a strong indian influence, primarily from the historical towns of Delhi and Gwalior. His first book of poems was published in India in 1980 under the title of Ritual Silences. See some of his poetry in the Golden Apples section of this site.
Pictured above Amitabh's cottage in Chukha, Bhutan 1983
So this is something which happened many years back.
Something which stuck to me, fibrils like so many others.
It was in 1985
I was working in a high altitude hospital in the Kingdom of Bhutan
Evenings use to arrive by 3 pm and that was the time when my batman, a singular chap by the name of Sharief use to prepare my tray of "chota" (small in Hindi) peg of rum with spicy lamb pieces. Eventually I use to hit the bottle accompanied by belting urdu ghazals from the audio system and a roaring fire.It use to be foggy all day and temperatures were subzero and I remained foggy at night.
I lived and loved the Dzonkha way of life.
One day I learnt that my patients are being treated by a Buddhist monk, a Lama who happened to be passing by. It was only when I found out that he was treating such diseases like cancer that I decided to give him a visit. I knew Bhutanese herbal medicine is very evolved and there is a Institute of Indigenous Therapy in Thimphu , Bhutan. His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk has given his country a new outlook yet preserving the culture and traditions which has made this mountain kingdom an unique place, the last Shangri-la.
I requested my postmaster friend who is fluent in Dzonkha and Tibetian to accompany me to the Lamas abode. One fine day early in a misty morning I packed my jeep with essentials, a bottle of fruit juice for the lama and I drove off with my friend, the postmaster. It wasn't long when we had to stop, and Mr. Tshering suggested that we take a shortcut through the woods taking a walk instead. It was a difficult walk for me being more used to the finer pleasures.The flying leeches kept on jumping on to us and I was wondering what I was doing here instead of my comfortable home "The Dzong"( A Fortress). Mr. Tshering understood my discomfort and urged me with anecdotes of the lama.
One goes like this; a young man travelled a long distance from a far off village in the mountains to pay his respects to the Lama. He was carrying a packet of home-made cheese that his mother had packed it as an offering for the holiness. This is the same wood where he was treading to reach the lamas place. He had a long and an arduous journey. Suddenly he felt that the packet of cheese was getting too heavy to carry on with him. At that moment he decided that he should rather divide the cheese into half and hide that piece in the bushes and carry the other half for the Lama. He believed that the Lama being alone would not need such a big piece of cheese. He arrived at the Lamas cottage in the afternoon to find that the Lama was waiting for him at his doorstep. He welcomed him, gave him some biscuits to eat and told him, " My son it's going to be evening soon, you have a long walk back home, please go quickly as the birds are eating away the cheese you left in the bushes".
Such were the "tales" Mr. Tshering related during our walk accompanied by my constant Ha's and Oh's, utterances of a mixed reaction due to the pain of stuck leeches and the utter wonder of his narration.
We finally reached a glade on the top of a small hill at about 2 pm. The sun was still shining but not with all its splendour. There were small makeshift huts, sick people who were staying there with their relatives. I recognised some of them as they had visited me in the hospital. They all waved at us, children, elderly people running to greet and shouting Kuzo Zambola Dasho a typical Bhutanese salutation. I felt at home again.
Mr Tshering pointed to me a small rustic cottage in the centre of the clearing. It was the Lamas residence. The people around us told that he is inside and that he comes out only in the early hours of the morning to distribute medicine to his patients. I knocked at his door. The door was opened by a smiling man with mongoloid features typical of that region wearing a straw hat, very rotund and of indeterminate age. I would put him at around fiftyish but he may have been older. The cottage interior was just enough for him to sit at the corner as the place was piled up with canned items, fruit juices and so on that people had given him as an offering. I bowed and gave him the bottle of fruit juice. Kadrinche la, Thanks uttered the lama, always smiling, his eyes twinkling as he looked at me.
Mr. Tshering introduced us and we all sat on mats on the floor, a bit cramped while he sat in front of us in a semi-reclining position.
There was no way he could sleep in that room as there was no space nor was there any other room. There was only one door in that cottage.
I looked at him.
I felt so different, very calm and so full of happiness.
He asked me in Dzonkha that Mr. Tshering interpreted,
"What do I need?"
Nothing, I said.
He asked me to expose my navel
He pulled out a hollow bamboo and placed its one end on my navel.
And then he blew, thrice
Hoo, Hoo, Hoo.
I felt his breath, felt connected.
He was smiling.
He handed me a packet of biscuits.
I stood up to open the door, and then I looked back at him.
His straw hat was floating about 2 feet above his bald head.
He was smiling.
A humble gesture towards a great healer.
(c) 2003 Dr. Amitabh Mitra