the Bone Setter of Kalimpong
Baidhya Chhewang Pakhrin
Traditional Healing Arts of the Himalayas
translated from Nepali by Niraj Lama - At the fringe of the town of Kalimpong, a place innocuously called 16th Mile - which actually marks its distance from the river Teesta on Reshi Road - Baidhya Chhewang Pakhrin administers, helped by his three assistants, relatively simple remedies to even highly complex bone fractures. Poor people from villages who cannot afford modern treatment and people on whom modern treatment have failed and trusting people bringing friends, arrive limping or with strapped hands to this local Baidhya. Herbal pills, herbal paste, bamboo strips to hold the joint and in a very little time compared to the "plaster of paris" approach, the limbs can be moving once again. The X-rays and the patient's mobility and their bright faces show the effectiveness and results of Pakhrin's treatments.
Baidhya Pakhrin's clientele range from top government ministers to peasants from remote, inaccessible villages. Every day his clinic, which even contains a 20 bedded hospital with cabins, draws a fair amount of crowd. A sign revealing the physician's dedication is that none of the patients is charged for room and treatment. It even happens that some are fed by thePakhrin's family. Visiting the three-storey hospital, each room is like a separate living unit - a kerosene stove with boiling tea and usually a patient's relative preparing some food with simple cooking utensils.
We enter the medium sized chamber and are spontaneously greeted by Baidhya Pakhrin with a warm smile spread on his soft yet intense face. With earnest gratitude expressed, we acquaint him to ITTM and inform him of our desire to write about his work in the first issue of AyurVijnana.. He echoes our eagerness.
Q: Can you briefly introduce us to your tradition of medicine ?
C.P.: I am the fourth generation now, who is pursuing this art of Ayurvedic healing. My great-grandfather received the knowledge in his dream. Since then the family heads have kept the practice alive. And because it is God's gift, it is also a part of Dharma. Truth and Dharma are the two sides of the same coin. Over the last 40 years many people have come to me with faith and so far have not returned disappointed. This makes me believe that I have not failed.
Q: What is the reason for your popularity ?
C.P.: Herbal medicine heals deeply, is easy, economical and has no side effects. That even makes me personally happy. This medicine is relevant especially to the poor villagers in the hills. This clinic has been established to serve the people and it has existed and grown solely on public contribution. It was people coming from far-flung places who built this hospital to solve their problem of staying. Some organisations have promised to donate an X-ray and other machines, but so far we have not received them. I am trying to involve people in reviving Ayurvedic medicines once again. But the task is onerous. Apart from healing bone fractures and dislocations -which is our main area of work- we can treat arthritis, rheumatism, menstruation disorders, etc. I am even working towards treating paralysis effectively.
Q: How does your style of treatment differ from that of the allopathic ?
C.P.: Actually, the principle is pretty much the same. You maintain a proper setting of the bones and it naturally heals. But unlike in allopathic style, we apply a medicinal paste together with bamboo strips which hold the position of the bones firmly. In the orthopaedics' plastering lies a fault. What happens is that the plaster of paris shrinks after some time leaving enough space for the bones to "play". That is why sometimes the bones get improperly fixed. And it is also because the plaster of paris dries unproportionately - the side exposed to the air drying quickly. The usage of bamboo removes that risk. Further, we not only apply medicine with the plaster but also give oral pills to the patients. The medicines enhance the callus formation because of which the bone gets fixed faster than the one with the plaster of paris.
Q: Do you practise surgery?
C.P.: No, as per our tradition we avoid all cutting of the human body. I believe that the severed nerves and cells could have an adverse affect later on. But yes, there are times when the case is so hopeless that we can't but suggest amputation. However, we refer such cases to the other hospitals.
Q: How many patients do you have right now?
C.P.: Right now I have 24 patients. There are four people who take
care of them all- me and my three assistants.
Q: What is the reason behind you not charging your patients?
C.P.: This art of healing, which is God's gift, is to mitigate the suffering of the people. This is not for money, and that is why I make no charges. The people give what they can. It is they who keep this place running. There is no government funding, though I admit having pleaded several times for it in the past. Instead, I had to confront several hindrances. Some accused me that I was secretly using allopathic medications under the guise of Ayurveda, and they searched this whole place for it. They tried to destroy my reputation. But they failed; they found nothing that proved their charges. Thankfully, they issued a certificate on the credibility of my medicines, and I circulated them to the doctors who had tried to malign me.
Q: What about scientifically documenting your work?
C.P.: Well, a couple of books in Nepali and some certificates have already been made on my work. The books sadly don't contain an exhaustive study. Perhaps the writer got tired of it all and dashed it off in a hurry. But I have certificates from eminent persons who attest this medicines effectiveness after personally experiencing it.
Q: How many students do you have presently?
C.P.: I have three who have been with me for the last 17 years. Actually, I have quite a few people coming here to learn from me. But I am willing to impart this education only to suitable persons. It is imperative for the learner to be honest, pure, religious and with an attitude to serve the people. I cannot give to those who wish to make money out of it. Greed can destroy this gift. It can be taken away due to greed. It is for the betterment of all; it is not only not mine nor for me. And that is why this knowledge has to be bestowed on safe hands.
There was once this lady from Switzerland who came to me determined to study and learn the art. But she laid too much emphasis on theoretical learning and she also wanted to pick it up fast. I told her, "Lady this needs many, many years to learn and with your impatience it is impossible." I couldn't help her.
Q: What method do you adopt for training your students?
C.P.: Faithful to my tradition, I lay a lot of emphasis on practical training. And moreover, since the tradition has perpetuated orally, we have no books to refer to. My students are with me when I administer the medication and they learn by observing. They also go with me to distant places to identify and collect herbs. Since there are hundreds of herbs to identify and use and also the varying bamboo frames that we need in our work, it takes a very long time to be proficient and successful.
However, lately I have been thinking I should teach two things separately. First, just the administration of the treatment and second, identification, collection and preparation of the medicine itself. This I think is necessary because some right persons, I find, are not capable of doing both due to physical and time limitations. Some herbs, for example, are found only at very high altitudes. It is not for everybody to reach such places. Also, I am in a great need for an adequate infrastructure. I need a place to provide proper physiotherapy and make medicines.
Q: What future plans and visions do you have?
C.P.: I want this art to proliferate and not remain confined solely in Kalimpong with me. I want to establish sub-centres in Sikkim, Darjeeling and Siliguri and other places but I have not enough funds. I need a proper infrastructure for training students and it is not easy to come by. I am afraid for the future of this art. But it is definitely encouraging to interact with a like-minded institution as ITTM.
Nevertheless, I do have some reservations. Because I may give all the knowledge, both practical and theoretical; but yet, it may not work and I may be blamed for it. Remember this is a gift of God. This art is not so easy to learn. It needs a lot of perseverance and, of course, time. It takes a huge amount of experience to identify the herbs, and the manner of placing bamboo strips is another skill difficult to master.
Q: Do you perceive any danger to your medicinal tradition?
C.P.: There are two reasons why I think the popularity of Ayurvedic medicine has declined. Firstly, the teachers did not impart proper knowledge and training and secondly, the students lacked the sincerity which is needed to pursue this knowledge. Now, I don't want this to happen with me. I will correctly train people provided they are the right ones. And I have my conviction that one day the SANJIVANI BUTTI will be discovered if we seek it with our true hearts. If not in my lifetime, definitely thereafter.