This anecdote narrated by my father came back to me while reading Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay’s award-winning novel Arogyaniketan. Revolving around a small clinic, Arogyaniketan, in the village of Debipur, the novel chronicles the rise and fall of the Mashay family, practitioners of medicine for three succeeding generations.
Established by Jagat Bandhu Kaviraj Mashay and taken over by his son Jeevan Mashay after the former’s death, the clinic was established on the the noblest ideals of care and concern. As the founder says to his friend: “(Healing) is the best kind of gain in this life. One party gains for he gets healed, the other has gained God’s mercy by nursing the sick.” Both Jagat Bandhu and his father were practitioners of Ayurved, the indigenous system of medicine in India in which diagnosis is made by examining the pulse of the patient. The most accomplished ones, like the Mashays, can even foretell the time of death.
Jagat’s son, Jeevan, however, does not want to learn this ancient science. Enamoured by Dr. Ranglal, he wants to learn the modern science of allopathy. He even enrolls himself into a medical college but certain personal calamities force him to leave the college and he ends up learning ayurved from his father. Soon, he is as accomplished a practitioner as his father and grandfather before him but the world has moved on. Ayurved has fallen into disrepute because of certain unscrupulous people who merely pretend to be its practitioners. People now hardly ever come to arogyaniketan preferring the new hospital that has come up on the outskirts of the village, manged by Dr. Pradyot whose concern for his patients rivals that of Jeevan Mashay and who has no time for mumbo-jumbos like feeling the pulse and predicting the cause and cure of a disease. And what irks the good doctor no end is the prediction of death. Can anyone really do it and should this be done? Isn’t it unethical? Shouldn’t efforts be made to save a person till his last breath or would a person be more relieved to know his stipulated time and make preparations for his departure?
I never thought that a novel revolving around various practitioners of medicine – ayurveds, allopaths, hakims, homeopaths, even quacks – and around philosophic questions of life and death, would turn out to be so interesting. Highly recommended.
First Line: AROGYANIKETAN or the clinic run by the Mashay family of Debipur, doctors for three succeeding generations, was by no means a charitable dispensary or a hospital in the conventional sense.
Original Title: Arogyaniketan
Original Language: Bengali
Author: Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay
Translator: Enakshi Chatterjee
Publication Details: ND: Sahitya Akademi, 2005
First Published: 1953
Other books read of the same author: None
Trivia: The book has been made into a movie.
This book was gifted to me on my birthday in 2006. Though I pretended otherwise, I wasn’t too happy. I’d rather have received a mystery than a book set in rural India. Thus, the novel sat on my shelves. This year, I finally dusted it off and read it, prepared to wade through a life full of woe. Was I surprised when the novel turned out to be so gripping that I could hardly put it down!
The book is available for free download on certain sites.
Submitted for various challenges.