The other day, a family friend called me on the phone and said, “Sir, I have a wonderful remedy for your wife's neck pain and backbone problem. Your recurring cold can also be solved. Shall I come and explain?”

As my wife is the backbone of the family, I could not resist his tempting solution. She has been suffering for the last 4/5 weeks and has tried every gel remedy available in the market and every painkiller suggested (free advice) by any caller to our residence or on the phone or prescribed by different doctors. The prescriptions by doctors did not stop with the pain-specific drug. It came with an antacid, a B-complex and a gel which was not available in the house. (Doctors normally will ask first, ‘do you have this gel at home?') The worst part of it is finding the drugs prescribed by the doctors. I was virtually on the streets of Mylapore and Mandaveli to get the medicines prescribed by a doctor at Mambalam. All pharmacists said in chorus: “Sir it will be available only with the pharmacy close to your doctor's clinic.” I think we should change our family doctor as well when we change our residence. Now you can understand my state of desperation to get the problem of my wife addressed lest she consider me a ‘pain in the neck.'

The man arrived within a few hours with a bag full of plastic bottles and a bunch of glossy booklets. The news had by then spread to all the apartments. As everyone had his own cup of woes, i.e., health problems, the “doctor” had enough audience. He assured us that he had a solution for everybody's problems. He preambled his briefing with remarks such as “What I am going to show are not bitter allopathy drugs, but just food supplements.”

He then rolled out one product after another — general, well-being providing immunity from all diseases, anti-oxidants; sugar control; omega-3 — a cholesterol preventer, stress controller and weight controller; a foot sticker that absorbs all toxins from the body and it turns black; (someone commented ‘will it remove the toxins of the mind?') and a neem-based product providing glowing skin and calcium for bones.

He assured us that they were direct products from natural plants and there would be no side-effects. Everyone was thrilled as if they had found the “nectar” that was churned out of the mythological ocean of milk. Women were so thrilled with the thought that in a few months they would be stronger, healthier with a glowing skin and ready to throw a challenge to the leading ladies of Bollywood and Kollywood.

I was wondering how a few hundred rupees/day of spend could assure us health? What is this new marketing gimmick with the new coinage ‘food supplements?' The so-called supplements are flooding the markets, targeting health maniacs. Are we looking for easy and quicker solutions to health?

I am tempted to go back to my younger days when my mother used to administer castor oil every month, following a gingelly oil bath the previous day. Pepper and neem flower rasam were part of the weekly routine. The menu ensured good health. My mother used to say, “Give your money to the oil trader instead of doctors.” Those days, even doctors were adopting a holistic approach and diagnosing problems with just checking the patient's pulse and eyes and using the stethoscope. Nowadays why do doctors jump to gadgets? When I took my wife to an orthopaedic doctor, he, after checking her, asked me, “Where are you working? Are you getting reimbursement? Scan has to be taken. Will cost Rs.8,000.” When I agreed to the scan, he quickly wrote out a prescription for the examination to be done at a specific centre.

The so-called health deliverers are exploiting the miseries of the people. Most of the TV channels show men and women in shorts working on various gadgets and assuring us viewers six packs for men and a slim waistline for women. Many of my nephews and nieces have many such gadgets in the house acquired at a heavy cost. But they are misused or lying in disuse and even in their 30s my kin have a big tummy, back pain and digestive problems.

We are carried away by sales gimmicks and look for easier and quicker solutions. We have lost the capacity to bear the pain and resort to painkillers available across the counter. We are moving away from nature and natural foods like vegetables, fruits and pot-grown tulsi and aloe vera. We are reluctant to spend on fruits, but are ready to shell out money at fast food outlets.

Let food be our medicine, and not medicines be our food. Let us rely on food rather than supplements or substitutes. No substitute for hard work. No substitute for direct foods.

Oh, Lord, give us the daily bread (food) alone.

(The writer's email is:

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