A GUEST POST by my aunty Dr. Bindu.
She, Dr Kamath, was a General Practitioner (GP) who lived not far from our flat in the Gamdevi area of South Bombay. We only knew of her because of Hari who came each morning to sweep and swab our flat. He worked at 6 to 7 households and Dr Kamath’s was one of them.
Her husband had developed cancer and Hari accompanied him for the many sessions of chemotherapy. She gave Hari a large cash gift when her husband died, to show her appreciation.
GPs are a near endangered species in South Bombay and my sisters Pritiben and Sita had considered themselves lucky to have a very good caring one who practised at the end of our street. Unfortunately he died suddenly.
They found another equally good but to our dismay he fell very ill, closed his practice and died a few months later. Distressed they knew they had to find another GP, someone to go to for minor ailments, someone who would make home visits if needed. Above all they needed a GP to issue a death certificate should they sail off to eternity from home!
Hari suggested Dr Kamath and Pritiben went to her Dispensary. “Nice but a bit crude, without any polish”, Pritiben commented. But more than that her dispensary was located in a low-lying area prone to flooding in the monsoon. A bit chancy for Pritiben who had bilateral hip replacements and was leery of any situation which might make her fall yet again. So the hunt for a GP went on.
Meanwhile Hari’s daughter Nita was to marry and Pritiben, Sita and the doctor were invited to it. The wedding and reception were to be held in Nalla Sopara, a town about 60 kms from our home.
Nalla Sopara has a distinguished history though one cannot associate that with it today. It has grown from a sleepy small village a few decades ago to an ugly concrete high-rise suburb similar to the many that surround so much of Bombay.
My sisters were planning to drive to the wedding and offered Dr Kamath a lift. She readily accepted and was astonished that not only was she picked up at her doorstep but dropped there too, though she lived barely a furlong from us. She was very pleased with this act though I cannot imagine my sisters doing it any other way.
3 months later Pritiben died. Mourners came in a steady stream in the week after her death. One Sunday afternoon about 2 weeks later Sita and I were alone when the doorbell rang. It was Dr Kamath.
She was dressed in what at one time was a typical middle class Maharashtrian garb, a uniform as it were. A polyester saree, a mangalsutra around her neck, a bindi on her forehead. She had a plastic handbag, sensible to carry during the monsoon as leather would be destroyed by the rains. She was clutching a small packet, wrapped in a newspaper and tied with a string.
I had never met her and was a little taken aback at the intensive questioning that followed. My career from Medical College to the present day had to be recounted as also details of where I lived in the US, how long did I intend to stay in Bombay this time around and so on. The questioning was not unfriendly rather it was methodical as though a check list was to be completed in her brain.
It went on longer than I expected. Her visit had now lasted nearly a half hour. She moved as though ready to leave. Instead she carefully unwound the string of the newspaper packet she had brought with her. There was another layer of packing, this time of green leaves. She opened it carefully, there were flowers in it.
She got up, gently arranged the flowers around Pritiben’s photo that stood on the window ledge, bowed down before it and with a Namaste to us left.