Saturday, December 28, 2013

The House of Healing: Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay's Arogyaniketan

There was once a blind pir-fakir in Dera Ghazi Khan (prior to 1947 a province of India but now in Pakistan) who could discern what ailed a person just by feeling the latter's pulse. Extremely orthodox Muslim ladies, who would not allow the touch of any man barring their husband, would tie a thread round their wrists and the fakir would finger the thread and dictate a prescription. Not pills and capsules, mind you, but herbal concoctions. Once a young man, eager to prove the man as a fraud, went and let the man examine his pulse. The fakir made his diagnosis. The next day, the young man went again and again the same thing was told to him. This happened a few times, the young man would disguise himself differently everyday and approach the pir and the blind man would make the same prognosis. Finally, one day the pir said to him, "Aap roz aa jate hain." (Why do you come everyday?)

This anecdote narrated by my father came back to me while reading Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay's award-winning novel Arogyaniketan. Revolving around a small clinic, Arogyaniketan, in the village of Debipur, the novel chronicles the rise and fall of the Mashay family, practitioners of medicine for three succeeding generations.



Established by Jagat Bandhu Kaviraj Mashay and taken over by his son Jeevan Mashay after the former's death, the clinic was established on the the noblest ideals of care and concern. As the founder says to his friend: "(Healing) is the best kind of gain in this life. One party gains for he gets healed, the other has gained God's mercy by nursing the sick." Both Jagat Bandhu and his father were practitioners of Ayurved, the indigenous system of medicine in India in which diagnosis is made by examining the pulse of the patient. The most accomplished ones, like the Mashays, can even foretell the time of death.

Jagat's son, Jeevan, however, does not want to learn this ancient science. Enamoured by Dr. Ranglal, he wants to learn the modern science of allopathy. He even enrolls himself into a medical college but certain personal calamities force him to leave the college and he ends up learning ayurved from his father. Soon, he is as accomplished a practitioner as his father and grandfather before him but the world has moved on. Ayurved has fallen into disrepute because of certain unscrupulous people who merely pretend to be its practitioners. People now hardly ever come to arogyaniketan preferring the new hospital that has come up on the outskirts of the village, manged by Dr. Pradyot whose concern for his patients rivals that of Jeevan Mashay and who has no time for mumbo-jumbos like feeling the pulse and predicting the cause and cure of a disease. And what irks the good doctor no end is the prediction of death. Can anyone really do it and should this be done? Isn't it unethical? Shouldn't efforts be made to save a person till his last breath or would a person be more relieved to know his stipulated time and make preparations for his departure?

I never thought that a novel revolving around various practitioners of medicine - ayurveds, allopaths, hakims, homeopaths, even quacks - and around philosophic questions of life and death, would turn out to be so interesting. Highly recommended.

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First Line: AROGYANIKETAN or the clinic run by the Mashay family of Debipur, doctors for three succeeding generations, was by no means a charitable dispensary or a hospital in the conventional sense.

Title: Arogyaniketan

Original Title: Arogyaniketan

Original Language: Bengali

Author: Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay

Translator: Enakshi Chatterjee

Publication Details: ND: Sahitya Akademi, 2005

First Published: 1953

Pages: 323

Other books read of the same author: None

Trivia: The book has been made into a movie.

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This book was gifted to me on my birthday in 2006. Though I pretended otherwise, I wasn't too happy. I'd rather have received a mystery than a book set in rural India. Thus, the novel sat on my shelves. This year, I finally dusted it off and read it, prepared to wade through a life full of woe. Was I surprised when the novel turned out to be so gripping that I could hardly put it down!

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The book is available for free download on certain sites.

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Submitted for various challenges.



6 comments:

  1. Neeru - Isn't it wonderful to discover that a book you thought would be a great disappointment is a real gem? This one sounds utterly fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. This does sound very interesting. What a lovely surprise to find that you liked the book you avoided.

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  3. Thanks Margot and Tracy. Yes, it was a very pleasant surprise. Loved this book and am keen to read more of this author.

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  4. can u pls suggest me the sites where i can find the book online for free. badly wana read it. couldn't find it yet.

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    1. I am sorry but I don't think it is available online for free. You can try Book Chums though:

      http://www.bookchums.com/ebooks.php

      Hope you are able to read it soon. I really enjoyed it and hope you do so too.

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    2. When I wrote about it, I remember finding it on a few sites. Now, however, those sites seem to have disappeared. A search on Google, however, pointed to certain pdf copies of the text available on the Net. You could try those. I hope you get a copy of it.

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