A swinging half door separates my waiting room from the treatment area. From my working position I can see half of any one standing behind those doors and when I notice two fidgeting legs in a pair of brown trousers and the collar of a striped shirt (held in the hand) hanging over them, I know it is Mr. Pillai. He always comes to the clinic on his way back from his work and always carries the shirt of his uniform in his hands in a crumpled bundle. He does not wear it to work as all his colleagues do, nor does he carry it folded in a bag. The crumpled bundle of shirt will be on the table in front of him in the library and next to his plate in the hotel. Visiting my clinic is a deviation from Mr Pillai’s twenty eight year old routine, necessitated because of tooth ache. Otherwise he would have got down from the factory bus near my clinic, walked to the library, spent an hour there reading magazines and news papers and moved on to the park for half an hour on the bench listening to the music from the public address system of the municipality. From there he would have proceeded to the hotel for dinner and walked back to his room.
Pillai is a peculiar person. Well, all of us are peculiar in our own ways. He is a little more peculiar than others. He is a bachelor and stays alone in a rented room not very far from my clinic. He is working in the same factory, staying in the same room and eating in the same hotel for the last twenty eight years. He has been a regular in my clinic for nearly ten years and what started as a purely patient-dentist relationship has now turned into friendship. Still, he is very formal as far as appointments, treatment and payments are concerned, but he can’t help adding a touch of his idiosyncrasies.
When he takes an appointment he makes me write it down using a pencil and insists that I cancel or change it if I come across any other urgent case. “I am not sure of keeping up the appointment doctor. I do not know what exigencies arise in the factory. I have to listen to my bosses. Private factory you see, we are slaves. Any way I am free all evenings and you can put me any other time. I give you absolute freedom to cancel or postpone my appointments.” But he never misses an appointment. He is always there five minutes before time. If he is called in on the dot he will be very happy. If I make the mistake of taking his words at face value and utilize the liberty to alter the appointment, he stands next to the half door scratching his beard and fidgeting. He neither sits in the waiting room nor stands outside and his presence behind the door upsets me. I hurriedly finish the case at hand and Pillai will rush in thanking his stars for not making him wait very long. But if anyone else is waiting, he will remain at the door and will ask the other person to get in first. “I am always your patient doctor. I can wait. Others may get fed up of waiting and go away. Attend to them first. You should not lose your customers.” I have to overrule his offers and pull him in. In case I take up any other case, he continues to stand at the door fidgeting, waiting for his chance and if I post pone the appointment for another day his spirits go down completely. But he will urge me again “write my name in pencil doctor. If there is any other urgent case………….”
Initially when he started visiting my clinic he was very apprehensive. After two extractions, three root canals and umpteen fillings he is somewhat relaxed but still sits gripping the handle of the chair tight. I tell him to take any position that is comfortable to him (I mean as comfortable as one can be while undergoing dental treatment) and retain it. He can’t. As I bend my head, strain my neck or shift my position to get a better view while working, he keeps shifting his head, neck and body in the opposite direction in what he thinks to be an effort to make it easy for me, but actually making my job much more difficult. And then there is his handkerchief. It is normal for all my patients to spit out the water collected in the mouth from the water spray attached to the drill. And all of them keep a napkin or a tissue in their hands to wipe their mouth. Mr Pillai carries his hand kerchief with him but it is always kept neatly folded in the back pocket of his trousers. Every time he rinses his mouth, he slides down to reach his back, takes the kerchief out, uses it, folds it neatly and keeps it back in his pocket. Within a minute he needs to take it out again for use and I have to wait till the exercise is finished. I suggest that he keep it in his hands but he never does. I keep wishing that his shirt and handkerchief change their places, But they never do. My biggest woe while treating him is his beard and mustache. Mr.Pillai hails from a small town in Kerala and visits his native place once a year to meet his family members and have a haircut and shave from a particular barber there. He never goes there in between and never visits any other barber in Ponda. Also, he does not trim his hair himself. For the most part of a year he sports an overgrown head and a flowing beard. I need an extra pair of hands to push aside his mustache and beard and since I do not possess them I suffer a lot while attending to his teeth. He tries to help me out by pushing aside his mustache with his fingers, causing additional obstruction.
I was doing a root canal for his wisdom tooth and it was impossible to get a proper view of the tooth which was behind the veil of his mustache. I suggested that he trim his mustache and he made a wry face and offered vague excuses for not being able to do so. I told him that barbers are our professional ancestors and we dentists sort of have it in our blood and offered my services to trim it but it was not accepted. I tried my hand at working by ‘feel’ without actually seeing the tooth and damaged the next tooth. So, I refused to attend to him unless he trimmed his mustache and how he does it was his business. He came for the next appointment cleanly shaven. I congratulated myself for being able to alter one of Mr Pillai’s habits without realizing that I was working against my own interest. I finished his treatment without speaking anything about his mustache. It was weeks later that I learnt from one of his neighbours that Mr Pillai had summoned his barber from his native place paying a hefty fee apart from providing for his travel and lodging! Mr Pillai is extra careful with his health. “You see doctor, I am a bachelor. I need to look after myself. There is nobody to take care of me if I fall ill”. He needs to eat properly to be healthy and so has to care for his teeth. Hence he comes to the clinic many times with trivial complaints and fears. In the last two weeks he came to my clinic thrice and all the three times there were no other patients and I was spending time reading the news paper. “What is this doctor? I see no patients in your clinic” “It is nice once in a way. I enjoy the leisure and find time to indulge in other activities for which I usually do not find time” “No doctor. You should not take it easy. It is your business. If there are no patients how do you run your home and clinic? Your children are still studying.”
He was worried.
I assured him that the situation was not so bad and attended to him on the spot. Since the procedures were very minor, I refused to accept any payment.
The third time he said “Doctor, You have to accept some money. There are no other patients and if you do not take anything from me how will you manage?" I just joked saying that if I can not run my clinic, I will close it down and try to live on whatever pension I get.
"That is what I am worried about. And that is why I am forcing you to charge me.If you cannot earn enough, you may shut down your clinic and then what am I going to do for MY TEETH?”
Mr Pillai cannot change his dentist and if I close down what will he do?
That’s when I realized that by trying to change Mr Pillai’s habits I was working against my own interest.
Mr Pillai is a bachelor but I cannot help but wish MAY HIS TRIBE INCREASE.
The monitor of my computer and the TV tube in my clinic, both conked almost at the same time two weeks back. I was thinking of junking both, but did not know how to manage with out them. I am addicted to the computer and my patients to the TV in the waitng room. One of my friends recommonded a man who came with in an hour after calling him and he replaced some transisitors or capacitors or whatever and both my gadgets are functioning again. god bless the fellow.
By then my son came over from the hostel for holidays and he has left his laptop at his hostel. My 'Katari' desk top is occupied twenty four hours. when he sleeps he leaves instructions that I should not disturb the computer as some down loading will be going on.I got to type a few words today after pushing him out on some unwanted errand. This is just to say that I am stil there. I can hear the bike. bye.
I am following up on my last post. If any one of you are thinking of getting hold of Lord Ganapati, it is too late. I had misjudged the popularity of the lord.
One of my friends came to the clinic this morning. As he walked in, he had to pass the shelf on which I had placed the wallplate. He saw it and stopped in his tracks. “Arey, Dagadu Sheth Ganapati. How beautiful! Where did you get this?” he exclaimed. I told him that one of my friends whose tooth I removed, had given it to me. (I did not mention it was in lieu of my fee.) “You are lucky. This Ganapati is very powerful. Keep it in some nice place and put a red flower on it everyday.” I asked him if he liked it? “Yes. It is very nice.” I told him that if he has no objections he can take it. “No, No, who ever gave it to you, did so with the intention that you should have it. I can’t take it” I told him that I have had it for few days and now I intend that he should take it. I also told him that I did not know the worth of it and did not even recognize it as Dagadu Sheth Ganapati. I added that since he reveres the lord and is very knowledgeable about him, he is the right person to have it. He accepted it gratefully and said “Today is sankashti.(a day in the lunar calendar month specially suited for worshipping Lord Ganapati) On top of it, it is a Tuesday. A very rare and auspicious combination. We are having Ganapti pooja at home this evening. I am feeling as if the lord has come home for the purpose. I have an old Ganapati photo above my table in my office. After today’s pooja, I will place this there and remove the old one. It is a very good day today.” He thanked me profusely and left.
I could not help compare his reaction with mine “Oh god, one more Ganapati. What am I going to do with this. I will keep it out here and if somebody says it is nice, I will offer it to them. Why do people give these things and put me in trouble?”
I can never stop wondering about the variety in human nature.
Incidentally Dagadu Sheth Ganapati is the most famous and popular amongst all the ‘sarvajanik’ Ganapatis in Pune. Lakhs of people wait in mile long queue for his darshan and the jewellery that he is wearing is pure gold and diamonds worth crores.
Now the interesting part of the story is that this friend of mine had come to my clinic to fit the voltage stabiliser that he had repaired, and he usually does not charge me anything for his services. I had been feeling that I should pay him something and since you have already understood the interesting part, I will not waste anymore words.
Do you like this Ganapati wall plate? If yes, would you like to have it? No. It is not for sale and i am not trying to develop a side business, selling things. I will be giving it free of cost and will bear the postage too. To put it straight, I am just trying to get rid of this wall plate. No ill will or hard feelings between me and the lord of intelligence. It is not the lord’s fault that he happens to be a favourite of makers of artefacts and it is not my fault trying to get rid of unwanted artefacts. it is just that.
Wondering of what use could it be? You may use the plate for real godly purposes like lighting an incense stick in front of it and offering prayers, or for displaying it in the living room to show that you are god-fearing and also benefit from it’s ‘positive’ or ‘satvik’ vibrations. You may nail it on the wall of your bedroom and look at it the first thing in the morning, so on and so forth. If you do not have inclinations towards divinity, you may use it for the more earthly purposes like giving it as your contribution to your child’s school ‘bazaar day’(where the teacher is pestering your child to bring something and you don’t intend giving anything), or as a gift for birthday, wedding, house warming or any such occasion (where you don’t really feel like giving a gift but are forced to, because of social obligations) and if you do not find any other use, you may use it in lieu of fees to any doctor friend who does not charge you but you feel obliged to pay. The options are many.
This is the fourth Ganapati artefact that I have received as payment for my treatment. Apart from these, I have two ‘Geetopadeshas’ , (I need not explain what ‘Geetopadesha’ is . You know it is Krishna-Arjuna-four horses and a chariot. Anjaneya on top for additional effect) one clock having a border and numbers made of shells and another clock placed between the beaks of two bright coloured birds (no batteries in them, I mean in the clocks, but I will put a ‘eveready heavy duty’- free), two pen stands containing pens that do not write (I will replace the refills for you), two glass vases (which cannot hold any flowers but are ‘showpieces’ in their own right) , one boat made of something like match sticks (please remember it is not meant to go in water),two table calendars (validity fifty years)and four books on Sri Saibaba. Proof enough that the last option I have mentioned in the third paragraph is very much in vogue.
I have given you a choice. If you want to look at the other objects, I don’t mind sending photographs. Please let me know your selection and it will reach you within a week. None of the objects have any inscriptions stating who gave them to whom and when. All those who have handled them have been very considerate. This is a once in a life time offer and will not be repeated under any circumstances. In fact after listing the possibilities of usage, I am tempted to keep everything for myself. But I have made an offer and I will stick to it. Mine is a gentleman’s(?!) word and not an election manifesto. Incidentally we have four marriages coming on and I can find use for some of these if I do not find “no presents or bouquets please” or “your blessings are our presents” in the cards. My wife insists that those words are meant to remind us about the presents, but I disagree. She is gifted with an ability to read what is not written and hear what is not spoken. My limited intelligence makes me stick to what is written and spoken. I am dwelling up on the objects and their utility and am straying from what I started with. Let me say what I actually had in mind.
My left thumb and the right middle finger, both have hardened and knotted skin at the sides and feel like plastic rope. It is because of the continuous friction with the handle of the mouth mirror held in the left hand and the dental drill which is held in the right hand. Apart from the skin irritation, my profession has also given me a perpetually sore back and neck. I punish my body so that I can nurture it (an irony) and to be able to do that I expect to be paid for my pains(literally) if not for my service. I should say that most of my patients pay without a grudge or grumble. But there are a good number who make me work hard not only to fill their teeth but also to make them fill my pocket. The hardening skin on the tip of my right forefinger (which I have not mentioned above) is because of my efforts in ringing them again and again and requesting payment.
Even though I like to get paid for my efforts, there are certain cases where I am happy to offer my services free. As in the case of close relatives, friends and colleagues and such others. A majority of them accept the services and express their feelings with a simple smile, few words of gratitude or a heartfelt ‘thanks’. That is all that is expected. Few of them send some eatables or fruits which serve the above mentioned objective (of nurturing the body) and is OK. But there are some who cannot accept free treatment, do not insist on paying full charges and cannot just keep quiet. The personal relation is neither this way nor that way. They would like to make a token payment some way or the other and end up paying me with “Ganesha”, “Krishna” or a clock (incidentally costing much less than my usual fees), that I can neither keep nor throw out. After the gift is handed over they are free in mind and I am put in trouble. I wish I can recognize these cases and charge them well. Better have hard cash than hard feelings.