Ramachandran, a medical practitioner, was known for his consultation fee of Rs 10/-A tenner only. His son, Pratap did not like his father’s so called ‘noble action’. Unable to argue with him, he kept a donation box at the side table. People who wanted to contribute could do so. Though his father did not agree, he did not contest also. Pratap was of the opinion that being a specialist in the professional line, his father should not hesitate to charge market rate for his services. This would enable him to keep the clinic with a robust and posh appeal. Such an external appearance would add to the ambient atmosphere for the patients to get the feeling of ‘Get well soon’. In any case the extra money he would get could also be used for charitable purposes Consultation fees at Rs 10/- was not at all justifiable. Looks like giving alms to a beggar.
Ramachandran was of a different opinion. He neither believed in artificial build-ups, nor in any posh appearance for his clinic. He strongly believed in his medical treatment coupled with kind words of assurance. He kept everything on low profile and in fact, did not even want to charge the minimum fees. Just to discourage unwanted visits of his fully cured patients, he had fixed a token amount of Rs10/- That petty amount took care of the paperwork, like patient’s case sheet, prescription etc.
Earlier while serving at Government Hospital, he never thought he would set up a clinic of his own, after retirement. He was pained to see that many of his colleagues were insisting on the in-patients to get treated elsewhere, where they had some tie up arrangements. Some of them were having private practice also. No doubt, it was officially permitted, but with some conditions. From the day Ramachandran took the ceremonial ‘Hippocrates oath’, till date, he was honest to the core. For him medical profession was a source to serve the society on humanitarian basis as an angel of God and every doctor was supposed to be a philanthropist. Reality was far from anything of the sort. His colleagues were no different. He too got numerous offers from Super Specialty hospitals with lucrative packages. He did not venture to go for them. Surely, he was a misfit.
Chasing the ‘Golden goose’ was not his cup of tea. He was satisfied with his moderate views and approaches. The idea of opening a clinic came to him for two reasons… one, to keep his knowledge active and growing and another, to cater to his urge for serving the poor. The problem was that his son did not agree to such utopian ideals. He called it ‘outdated Gandhian principles.’ Ramachandran cautioned Pratap and warned him not to interfere in his affairs, because it was his passion. Warning or cautions, nothing bothered his son. That was how the donation box came into the clinic. Someone or other would pay a little more than Rs10/-.
In an earlier occasion when a father-daughter duo came to his clinic, he raised objections for being very liberal. Ramachandran, in addition to giving treatment, also gave them some cash for getting milk and nutritious food. Medicines alone were not enough. The girl was wary at Pratap for his objections.
“Who is he to object? Why should he come in the way and stop? Either you be good yourself. Or when you cannot be so, at least don’t disturb others being good”. They felt humiliated and went away.
There was one more occasion. Pratap unnecessarily poked his nose as though his share of wealth was given away. A small boy was treated for his leg injury. On successful completion of treatment, the boy was given a football, as that was his favourite sport. In yet another incident, a young mother came with her infant baby. As a gesture of gratitude, she wanted the doctor to name her baby. He instantly suggested ‘Abbakka’ or ‘Thimmakkaa’.
“Appa! What is this nonsense? Abbakkaa, Thimmakkaa? She is, such a young woman. She is asking you so fondly for a name for her daughter. In stead of suggesting a trendy modern short and crispy name, you are suggesting some old-fashioned names. You are also funny and your choice of names is also very funny.”
“Old Fashioned names, eh? So, you admit that you do not anything about them. These two are extraordinary Indian women who did extraordinary things in India. Abbakkaa Chowtha was a fierce warrior who fearlessly fought and drove away the Portuguese invaders at a time, when men were surrendering to them in fear. Thimmakka is another woman. She belongs to our times. She is best known for planting banyan trees. She was the famous environmentalist, who adopted banyan trees and planted then in lakhs and still continues to plant saplings. Recently she was honoured with Padmashri award. I will say the award got glorified when it was showered on her.” He showed them a video of that event.
Turning to the young lady he said, “Hello young mummy, you choose the name for your princess, ‘Fearless Abbakkaa’ or ‘Evergreen Thimmakka’”. Pratap added one more choice of names and suggested in a low voice, why not Jhansi Raanee Lakshmibai?
Mixing the two names, the young woman named her baby ‘Thimmalakshmi.’ And then happily, she left the clinic with her princess.
Time and tide waited for none. Pratap was his usual self, disturbing his father in small and big ways. Always wanting to add monetary means. The more his father wanted to be a good Samaritan, the son kept looking for pecuniary advantages. Ramachandran had warned him number of times. He even said,
“Look here. When you earn for yourself, you do in your style. Now leave me on my way. When it is your turn, you can pursue your methods.”
Pratap was a budding auditor and was still an apprentice under a leading auditor. Once he would settle down, he was free to set up his own firm and was freer enough to chase his dreams. Father and son hailed from same family, still both were miles apart in views, thoughts, attitudes, ways and means.
Suddenly there was a change in world all over. A new type of viral sickness gripped the world. The deadly pandemic did not spare any country. Ramachandran saw the donation box installed by his son was somewhat filled up, though not fully. Whatever it contained, he emptied it, used it for ordering masks, sanitizers, PPE kits, COVID thermal scanners etc. Pratap did say that it was time to charge more fees as there would be more patients in due course. All that Ramachandran said was, ‘Mind your business and keep quiet.’
One day while returning from his auditor’s firm, Pratap suffered severe headache, later throat irritation along with cold and cough. Heaviness in head soon made way to high fever. Ramachandran guessed it was not ordinary cold-cough-fever. He told Pratap to get COVID test done. Unfortunately, it was positive. Mere isolation would not be enough. He advised him to get admitted in a COVID-hospital as his clinic was not equipped with required infrastructure. He himself rang up many hospitals and tried to admit his son. At last he could get one. It was a private nursing home. Pratap went there. When he was asked to pay, Pratap said that he did not have that much money. In his groaning, he happened to let out his mind-voice openly, “If only my father was charging more for consultation than sticking to his tenner, I won’t have to face this tragedy.”
The lady, said, “What are you the son of Dr. Ramachandran? He is the only doctor intown to charge Rs10/- for consultation. Our dean has high regards for him. I shall talk to him right now and let me see if he agrees to reduce the charges.” The minute the message was sent to the dean, the entire scene changed. A group of people, no, not even that, precisely, a team of medical professional stood before him, including the dean. One doctor said, “I was the boy treated by your father for my leg injury. I owe a lot to him.” A lady nurse standing next to him said, “My daughter was named by him. Thimmalakshmi. I owe a lot to him.” Another lady also spoke high of him. “He treated my father very nicely and more than that, very-very kindly, at a time when we were very poor to maintain ourselves. We as a family owe a lot to him.” There were some more unknown faces who also shared similar anecdotes.
All of them said in a chorus voice that they had requested the dean to reduce if not condone the treatment charges. They wanted this as a great opportunity to show their sense of gratitude and reverence to the superman called Dr. Ramachandran, who always considered service to fellow human beings as something more important than looking for any pecuniary advantages.
The dean said that he held Dr, Ramachandran with high regards for his kindness and noble nature. He further said that he was quite moved by the insistence of his staff for expressing their reverence and gratitude by extending free services to the great man’s son. It was then that Pratap felt for the first time that his father valued caring for health, especially others, was far more superior than his care for acquiring wealth for oneself. He too along with others paid his obeisance to his father, the so-called SUPERMAN. They could co it openly, whereas he had to contain doing it mentally.
Health or wealth, what is prime?
There was no debate now. Pratap understood.