Shantanu Mishra

My Doc, My First Friend,

Dr. Anil Gholkar, had an impish smile on his chubby face. Or maybe his face was like that. Or may be smiling all the time made his face like that. I cannot tell. But I loved him. He was indeed my family physician. He had treated three generations of my family.

There was something about a visit to his clinic that caused ailments to subside and pain to go away. Funnily every bout of fever brought an excitement in us brothers –

'Doctor ke paas kab jayenge?!?' (When will we go to the doctor?)

Come evening and we used to count the clock: 6:30, 7, 7:30 and finally 8!! That he was a notorious late comer never had an iota of effect on his popularity. For a full kilometre of a stretch, kids would trail his Enfield Bullet and would then run off to their homes to announce his arrival.

As a kid, he would taunt me, 'Kya re Shuntanu (Shantanu spoken with a Marathi-Konkan accent), kya banega? Doctor ki Engineer ? Ki apne Papa ke jaisa Vakil?'

He was my godfather too. During my difficult teen years, when I messed up my Boards, when I had no one to talk to, no shoulder to cry on, my Doc was there for me. When it seemed the whole world had given up on me, my doc was by my side ever smiling, ever encouraging.

I knew little of his family, but I am sure he was pretty well off. Why he came every day in that slum only he could have explained. Maybe his patients needed him more.

'Look at my profession, I cannot even wish that you guys frequent me.'

Dad tells me he was probably older than my grandfather. Where we lived, in Sakinaka, malaria and TB were pandemic. He treated my grandpa for TB. He detected TB in my father and we got it treated in a timely manner. But for some quirky reason, every time I coughed, he said I had TB; I used to retort that he had gone crazy. It had become a sort of running joke between the two of us.

When I grew up and got my first job, I ran to him to show him my offer letter. When I got married, we went together to seek his blessings. I faintly recall he shoved me out of his cabin and spoke at length with my wife. When she came out she was laughing, giggling.

One day like all others before him, he died too. We were in Pune. His news brought a sinking feeling within me. For the first time in my life I felt naked and vulnerable. Doc died. Doc was right. We will all die. I will die too.

Dad tells me the whole community was saddened by his death. No home cooked a meal that night. Everyone was sad. I realized, Doc belonged to all of us. Thousands of us. When I came back that weekend, I saw his clinic for one last time. And with a few silent tears, closed a chapter of my life.

We will meet Doc. Take care of my Grandpa and Grandma till then.