Thoughts & Ideas

Monday, September 23, 2013

Kursela Days 7 – Dr. Sitaram Shah



Dr. Sitaram Shah was an ex-BSF short-service commission medical man who had joined the Bihar Government Health Service after retiring from the military and had been posted to man the Kursela Primary Health Centre. My impression of government doctors posted in villages, till then had been limited to the understanding that they mostly lived at the nearest town or sometimes lived and practiced at their home town and visited their place of posting occasionally, say 2 – 3 times a week or less, for a couple of hours each day so as to justify collecting their salaries. The only doctors who I had encountered practicing in rural areas, were essentially quacks.

Dr. Sitaram Shah was the exception to the rule. He lived and practiced in Kursela, visiting his home town Forbesganj only on Sundays which was his weekly off. He used to be invariably clad in a white T Shirt and Shorts and was available in case of emergency on a 24 X 7 basis. In that lawless place (Bihar during late 80s and early 90s) where everything used to shut down once the sun set and night buses or passenger trains did not move without armed police escort, Dr. Sitaram Shah used to move around freely without any armed escort because he had earned the respect of everyone and treated everyone with respect and humanness. He used to examine patients at the PHC in the mornings and, in the evening, go for a walk and visit his patients who could not come to the PHC. His method of collecting his fees was unique. He used to accept virtually anything and everything that was offered; a 1-rupee coin, 2-rupee note, a portion of grain, a couple of live chickens, a bottle of country liquor or, very often, nothing at all. But his approach to all his patients would be equally straightforward. I have witnessed him working at close quarters, since I used to sometimes accompany him on his evening rounds or used to sit with him at the PHC on my free days. I have written about some of his innovative techniques in one of my earlier blogs – A Rural Sojourn.

Dr. Shah was good company and I really enjoyed my association with him. After I left Kursela I met him a couple of times while I was posted in Patna. He used to make it a point to meet up with me on his Patna visits. Thereafter, as I wandered out of Patna I lost touch with him. Recently, after a gap of over 20 years, while reminiscing of the good old days with friend Govind Singh Rawat in Hyderabad, I suddenly had a very strong urge to get in touch with him. I did not have his contact details and so, posted a letter by ordinary post “To, Dr. Sitaram Shah, Forbesganj, Bihar” with a prayer that the letter should reach him. Within a couple of weeks I got a phone call from him. I was glad to hear his cheerful voice and to know that he was hale and hearty and continuing with his good work of administering to the poor and the sick in Kursela and Forbesganj. My respect and confidence in humanity and Indian Post was re-affirmed.

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