Milieu History & Culture

Kitchen remedy,earthy flavour

The village vaidhyar and family doctor were enough to combat ailments

A seasonal cold and fever last week, which left me drained even after consuming (or because of) endless pills sent me on a trip of nostalgia to the days when the local ‘expert’ would fix it with a dose of mixture. The humble kashayam with tulsi, betel leaf and Aadaadhodai would do wonders for the cough. Add pepper and coriander seeds — the perfect kitchen combination to counter the awful flu.

If any of us fell ill, word would be sent for Veeraperumal, the village vaidhyar. Veeraperumal knew the medical history of at least three generations of each family on his finger tips. Incidentally, he was such a philanthropist, he built the outer bathing ghat on the banks of the Cauvery. He also had a well dug in the middle of the river, which is of great use in summer even today. But that is a digression.

The magic health potions

He would come with strings of tiny bottles round his neck. They contained the magic kuligai (pills) potions and powders. A green silk cloth would sit on a shoulder. The silk would go round the wrist of the patient as he held it to read the pulse. Vaadam, Pitham, Sleshmam and Vayu... he would murmur. Then in the same low voice, he would chant some Tamil verses — which I later realised were songs of siddhars, which contained remedy for diseases. He would close his eyes for a few minutes and then select the medicines from his various containers. It was a delight to watch him make packets out of these powders. Neat and symmetrical the sachets were pieces of art.

This would be followed by the instructions regarding consumption — mostly by mixing it with honey on a betel leaf. He would affectionately admonish us for the long hours of play in the waters of the Cauvery, for not drying our wet hair properly and for loitering in the hot sun. This would be followed by instructions on diet, which would normally be a bowl of porridge.

Science would be followed by a touch of Divine Faith. At about 7 in the evening, Ganapathy Gurukkal, the priest of our Kaliamman temple, would come home with a brass plate and Vibhuti (holy ash). We would be asked to sit facing the east and we got to see him draw something on the plate, murmur chants to himself and smear vibhuti on our foreheads. The hot rasam rice and roasted pappad would be delicious. Veeraperumal also visited patients in nearby villages in his ‘Vilvandi’ (a type of bullock cart). When Veeraperumal passed away, he left a huge void and his loss was irreparable.

There was the back-up Allopathic, the family physician, a gentle human being, who knew the family history. The long stethoscope would check the lung status and the fingers feel the pulse, all the while keeping up a chatty conversation regarding the temple festival, the cattle at home, school progress reports, etc. In the end he would declare casually, “Not to worry, your aunt has it and you have inherited it. A winter malady, which will settle down with this.” We would leave, already feeling better, with a bottle of the so-called ‘mixture’ and a few tablets. Shots were rare. The fee would be single digit.

Veeraperumals and family doctors, who were part and parcel of our milieu, have almost disappeared. And it would sound like a fairytale to the youth today, who have to rush to ‘specialists’ for even ordinary ailments.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 11:14:03 PM |

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