The Great Healer Of Saalkumar
The Great Healer Of Saalkumar11 mins 215 11 mins 215
A cloudless Sunday noon in November.
I went to Saalkumar village. I was on my habitual saunter. I lazily biked and watched the rows of tin huts, the peasants working in the fields, the children playing half-naked with dust, women all busy with domestic chores, and the elderly basking in the sun. My eyes feasted on the fields—green, furrowed, and untilled patches arrayed with scattered huts walled with tall betel-nut trees. Jaldapara forest was at hand’s distance. The sun shone brilliantly, but the long sullied foliages of the trees at both sides of the dusty path were ashy and demure. The air was a bit cold. Cows, goats, sheep, were grazing in the fields, the grassy patches. Crows, pigeons, sparrows, hens, cocks, and ducks were in plenty. A huge aged banyan tree stood on the roadside. Under it, peasants sat on haunches, gossiped, and smoked bidis. Children were playing in a corner. An elderly woman, seeing me, pulled her veil over her face. She looked sad and shy. A man, aged almost fifty, was chewing vaaga paan. His lips and tongue were red, teeth dark marooned. He wore a soiled, stitched dhoti. His body was bare. He had a chain of beads, doubly folded, on his neck. He was a regular Rajbanshi peasant with a snub nose, and other mongoloid features.
“Uncle, how are you going?” I parked my bike at a distance, came to him, and asked as a mark of formality and respect.
The man took no notice of my words. He looked at my face and moved his tongue endlessly around the walls of his mouth. One of the peasants from the side said, “Oh dada, call aloud. He is hard of hearing. He has a lot of money but he is a miser. He won’t buy a hearing machine.”
I raised my voice and asked again. Now he heard. “Oh, me! Anyway. Life’s going. A small farmer I am.”
“How much land you have?”
“Oh, not much. Two acres,” he spat “who’ll labor? I have two daughters, one married, and the other studying in class IX at Saalkumar High School. Moreover, I am a busy man. Patients from far and wide come to me. Even at midnight, I have to attend them.”
“Where are you coming from?” He asked with a flash on his creased face.
I gave my details and earned his faith. He laughed and sat cross-legged on the dry leafy cushion. I sat beside him.
“Are you a doctor? I see you are a farmer.” I asked.
“No, no,” he shook his head, “I’m an ojha, a healer of patients of snake-bite. Go anywhere— Coochbehar, Jalapaiguri, Alipurduar, Dinhata, Madarihaat, Siliguri, Malbaazar, Mathabhanga, Falakata , Dhupguri, Chengrabandha, Jaiogaon, Kumargram, Hamilton, and call the name of Keta Rai. Everybody knows me, and I have cured at least one lakh patients of these areas.”
“One lakh!” I gaped.
“You become aback, I know. From the age of twelve, I was healing snakebite patients. Forty years in the trade.” The man threw the chewed paan with a sound and coughed. He shouted someone for water, and a boy soon brought a plastic mug. He gulped a liter of water at one go and wiped his mouth with the ends of his dhoti.
“All’s possible if you have the gift of Maa Manasha, the Goddess of the snake. But it’s very difficult. You need sacrifice. And you’ve to please the goddess. If she is enraged, your mantras won’t work. Maa Manasha loves me. That’s why I still keep going with this old bone.”
The man spat again and lit a bidi. He looked thoughtful. And when he smoked, he shut his eyes, and his cheeks sank deep. Meanwhile, four peasants with napkins strapped to their loins arrived and sat beside us. They said nothing. They looked at me and the healer alternatively. They were not casual listeners. When the healer spoke, their eyes shone, and faces became agog with curiosity. The miracle and the mystery of the healer shrouded them.
The peasant suddenly called for a chair for me. The same boy, who has brought the mug, ran and brought a new red plastic chair. I sat and asked, “How do you cure patients? Only your mantras are sufficient? Or do you apply for medicine too?”
The peasant scratched their head and brushed his face with his rough hands. He spat, and looked at me with anguished disgust, and told, “You can’t capture them all. It’s hard. There are many mantras, but Padma mantra is the greatest of all. It has four sets—Garuder Hankar, Guddar Hankar, Fuljhori Hankar, and the greatest of all Jonmo Khondo Hankar. We start with Garduar Hankar. If it fails we take the next, and the next, and finally Jonmo Khondo Hankar. It all depends on the variety of snake bites. If ordinary snakes, like, dhudhia, shankha chur, dhora, hele, bashuki, vokshok, laudoga, uloo bora bite, the four mantras are enough. But if a kaala nag bites, no mantras will work, and the patient must die.”
“Have you seen patients died at your doorstep?” I pursued.
“In my whole life, six patients died.” The man was silent, and he was apparently sad.
“How do you feel when a patient dies? Any particular incident can you remember?”
It seemed he collected his words thoughtfully from the debris of his memory. His face was a bit darkened, and he remembered a bit later, “It was long days ago. Kaal nag bit a Kamtapuri activist. His name was Johamuri Barman. People took him on a cot to my house at the dead of night. Johamuri was shrouded with a white dhoti. His left leg had terribly swollen like a balloon, and blood oozed out of the bandaged wound. He was half-dead. I felt the pulses. I applied rasa, made from deshi shrubs and leaves, and twigs. I applied all the mantras. I called Maa. And she descended on my rooftop. I prayed to her to cure Joha. But Maa told me that nothing could be done. Time was lost. If he was taken here a few hours earlier, he could have been saved. It was too dark. And the village was silent. Police kept a strict village on our village. But the men with the patient came through the forest and the fields. I could do nothing. They went back, mournful, and dead silent. Dogs barked endlessly. Perhaps they feared the worst. After the men left my house, the dogs fell silent again. I could not sleep that night. I thought of the dead patient and of the police. A minute seemed an hour. If the police would come, what would I tell? Such thoughts disturbed me the whole night. And at early daybreak, I went to the field near the forest and saw the dead Joha looking wide open at my eyes. I was shaken to the bone and fled from the spot. I could never forget the look of the dead man, my patient. The rumor spread quickly as jungle-fire. People from surrounding villages crowded. Later someone informed the police, and the laas (corpse) was taken to Alipurduar Hospital for moinatodonto (post-mortem).” The man talked breathlessly. The other peasants agreeably nodded their heads and sighed deep. They changed postures.
The sky was cloudless, deep blue. A fishy smell from a nearby pond filled our nostrils. There was an old woman pulling her obstinate cow for grazing. A gust of wind blew, and the leaves of the betel nut trees rustled and gave a lilting voice to the air. It was late noon. Somewhere a rooster crowed, and dogs barked.
“Devi gives you the gift. After your death who will carry the baar (gift)? Have you any disciple?” I made my point.
“Eh…” He tried to take his ears close to me bending his body.
I repeated. This time a bit loudly. He could hear me, and said, “Oh…, no, no. Maa forbade transferring mantras. Being happy, she gave it to me. And every night she descended from heaven, spoke, argued, quarrelled if I did any mistake, directed, guided me what to do and what not. Once I disobeyed her. I gave some of the mantras to Hari, a neighbourhood boy. He could not keep it. He did mistakes, and at one night his hut was filled with snakes—snakes in the yard, snakes in the kitchen, snakes on beds, snakes on rooftops, snakes and snakes slithering everywhere. I soon called Maa, bit my tongue, and begged pardon. She argued, and demanded an annual puja offering for her. I agreed. The snakes all vanished soon from Hari’s house. Since then I built a mandir for Maa Manasha, and offered puja, sang bishahari and at least three thousand people from in and around the villages dined here every year. It cost nearly forty thousand.”
“How do you arrange such a costly puja?”
The man looked calm, and he laughed like a child. His blackish teeth flashed. “All is possible because of Maa. I arrange half, and the other half is done by the patients who have been cured. They donate. Some rice, some a sack of potatoes, others bear the cost of grocery. This way I do.”
He looked relieved, and quite hopeful in life. However, a strange strain of languishment loomed large in his feature.
“Any fees for your treatment? How much?” I asked adjusting the legs of my chair.
“Nothing. It’s totally free. I devote my life to the feet of Maa Manasha. The motto is service to man. I do cure the incurable. Doctors can’t, but I can. Plenty of instances I can give you. A patient came to me in the year 2012 from Siliguri town. He was taken to North Bengal Hospital. Doctors failed, and they were ready to issue death certificate. A relative of the patient party somehow came to know of me. They immediately took the patient to me. Saline bottle was running. I was not at home, gone to a patient’s. Returning home, I saw a crowd before my house, wailing all. I soon called my maa, she descended. I asked her, what happened. She replied he was stricken with a baan (curse) by another ojha. His legs were swollen, and strains of thick saliva coming out of his mouth. I read one mantra, but it failed. Another. That too failed. Now I read Fuljhari Hankar. It also failed. I now applied the ultimatum—Jonmo Khondo Hankar. For a few hours my mantras fought with that ojha’s. The fight was fierce. He wouldn’t surrender. I read and read, and read. After ten hours I cracked that ojha’s mantra. And he fled. My patient opened eyes, moved lips, stirred limbs. Everybody was happy. Tears welled up in his relatives’ eyes. Wailings stopped. My body was stern, mouth dry, and because of long sitting and chanting. I ached in pains.”
The sun got mellowed. Children left the shadow. They were playing now in an untilled patch of land by the side of the path. The healer lit a bidi . He smoked, and left the smoky air in curls. A peasant began to make a puria (a pinch) of khaini. He pressed, and blew, pressed and blew until it was turned into soft dust. He then parted it among them. They took it one by one, and put it in one side of the gum. The smell is a bit pungent. I coughed.
“Doctors suggest if one is bitten by snake he should immediately be brought to nearby health centre or hospital, and not to ojahs.” I remarked.
“All bogus! Let the doctors go. Even the babas (fathers) of doctors cannot cure many snake bites.” He disfigured his face in rage, and spat. “Huh! …doctors, now many of them are fake. They get certificate by money. They even copy and pass pariksha (exam). What you seeing in papers? Trinomool sarkar is compelled to take a drive to nab fake doctors. Many are caught, many more be caught. Didi tries hard. I have cured many gall bladder stoned patients. I don’t operate to stick it out. I apply jorubuti together with some mantras, especially designed for this type of patients. And after a month or so, stones are mellowed, and patients get cured.”
He seemed apparently disturbed. His face is scarred with a tinge of anger, and anxiety. He was sullen, and his eyes glittered. He began again, “Hear! Behind my healing power there is a long history. You’ve to know the Puranas, Bramha, Bishnu , Maheswar, Manosha’s dosh, Shiva’s dosh, Shri Krishna Leela. Huh!…not so easy. And Devi won’t give the baar everybody. She knows all. I can talk with Maa anytime. Maa loves me.”
He stopped, and happily laughed. It seemed he forgot his surroundings. “You can’t believe it. What happened? ... Many days ago, I went to my sagai bari (home of a relative) at Mathabhanga. A burglar came to my house to steal. He knew that I was not at home. Think! It was a moonlit night. And the thief coming to near my house saw it was filled with snakes. And when he looked at the tin roof, he saw the snakes with huge fangs slithering and dancing on all sides. The moonlight fell on the roof, and they all glistened. They moved continuously from one end to the other of my shed. Now they ducked, now they raised smooth spotted hoods. Such were the blessings Maa Manasha bestowed on me. The man fled, and in the next day, in early morning, came to me running, and gasping, and prayed for pardon. I pardoned him.”
It was late afternoon. The man rose for his hut. The other peasants stood up, and they all brushed their backs with hands. A peasant yawned and began brushing his eyes. Cows mooed from a nearby hut. Women, after day’s work , wearing their best saris and slippers came to showcase the front yards of their huts. They chewed paan and lazily tattled,.
“What do you want before death? Anything left?”
“Villagers request me to do something about earthquake. Of late, frequent quakes quake us all. People are nervous. I have a talk with Maa, and she has given me a long mantra to stop earthquake. But that mantra is yet to test, and fortunately the earthquakes not hitting us since that night.”
“Tell me a few lines of a mantra,” I demanded.
“Padma te jonmo holo
Baap maa naam thulo Jaibishohari.”
I shook hands with the healer and left Saalkumar.