What can Rs 5 buy you in India? Perhaps not even a cup of tea at roadside kiosks that dot marketplaces, and definitely not medical treatment for hundreds of poor COVID-19 patients whose distressed cries for help are echoing in hospital corridors across the country.
But the humble Rs 5 coin goes a long way if you happen to be a patient of this octogenarian doctor in Ranchi.
Despite his own failing health and old age, compassion drives Dr Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, 85, to treat the poor who make a beeline for his clinic. He even waives the paltry Rs 5 consultation fee for those who cannot pay.
Honoured with the nation’s fourth-highest civilian award – Padma Shri – Mr Mukherjee has one appeal to make to the medical fraternity: “Treat one poor patient free of cost a day”.
“If you are a doctor, you should ponder how much is enough. Somewhere it has to stop. Compassion and empathy are an integral part of your profession and the pursuit of materialism has to end somewhere,” Mr Mukherjee, who has been a messiah for the poorest of the poor for over 55 years, said in an interview with PTI.
Inflation and the rising cost of living and maintaining his clinic have forced the doctor to increase his consultation fee to Rs 50 now, but he clarified “it is only for those who can afford and are willing to pay. Those who cannot afford need not pay even a paisa”.
Mr Mukherjee, who has cardiac and prostate problems, said the cost of sanitising his small chamber located in the heart of Ranchi at Lalpur has forced him to hike the consultation fee.
The increase is also because of his own rising medication costs which is about Rs 200 a day. “But poor are not under any compulsion to pay,” he said.
Even now he treats up to 20 patients a day. “I was compelled to increase my fees to Rs 50 as I have to earn for my roti-daal at this age. I have to consume medicines worth Rs 200 daily for heart and other complications. However, it is up to the poor how much they can
afford to pay…There is no compulsion at all,” he said.
“I cannot bear the sight when a poor mother comes to me and says please see my child as the child specialist has refused to examine for free and I have no money. How can medical professionals be like that? When a child is cured and the mother smiles, it gives me immense satisfaction and pleasure that is beyond any monetary sum,” he said.
He said he could never understand how doctors, even his students, charge Rs 500, Rs 1,000 from poor patients who do not have money for one square meal.
When asked if he felt sad that none of the NGOs or organisations formed by his students came forward to extend a helping hand for his medication or other assistance in these difficult times, Mr Mukherjee said, “Times have changed and I never expect anything from anybody.”
“Society has changed a lot. Morality, ethics have to be revived…We are considered not up to date but out of date. It is useless to talk about who helps you. This is a selfish world but give to the society what you can with no regrets and be content,” he added.
Mr Mukherjee, an MBBS from Patna Medical College in 1957 and a former Head of the Department of Pathology, RIMS (erstwhile Rajendra Medical College and Hospital) has provided medical services in Bihar and Jharkhand and claims to have trained about 3,500 medical students including those holding post-graduate degrees.
To keep COVID-19 at bay, this general physician’s formula is very simple.
“I would like to advise one thing which is not being emphasised now neither by the government nor by the media-regular gargle and cleaning of the nostrils. The virus enters through the nose and lodges in the throat before affecting other parts. If we gargle three or four times, then we can kill the virus.
“Also, apply mulstard oil to your nostrils and keep it clean. This is what I advise to all poor patients. This should be made compulsory for all,” stresses Mr Mukherjee.
He suggested gargling with antibiotic, antiseptic solutions or with salt or alum besides cleansing the nasal passage with plain water to keep the disease at bay.
He held COVID inappropriate behaviour of people responsible for the exponential surge in the pandemic.
A documentary on Mr Mukherjee was screened on Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC) show where superstar Amitabh Bachhan had lauded him for his appeal “Desh ke sare doctor har roz ek patient ka muft ilaaz karein (Every doctor in the country should treat one patient for free every day).”
Mr Mukherjee, who began practising in Ranchi in 1966, was honoured with Padma Shri in 2019.