Nowadays when doctors in the country are becoming increasingly professional and business-minded,there are still people here like Dr Gauranga Goswami who redefines the profession in the light of the ideal. He is engaged in serving all kinds of patients day and night for a nominal charge of rupees five. This has earned him the popular nickname of paanch takar daktar (rupees 5 doctor) in the small town of Kalna,80kms from Kolkata. Even the rikshaw-puller who took me to his house-cum-clinic tells me he is our God.
A big crowd outside the house and an equally populated waiting room welcomes me when I step into his chamber. The Doctor,in his late 50s,greets me with a smile and indicates how busy he is with the long queue of people waiting to get treated.
I think instead of me you should talk to the patients who stand for hours in queues just to meet me, says the doctor. The answer is simple,when one knows that he will get quality treatment for an almost negligible price,he is bound to run down to him every time.
Dr Goswami is a graduate from the prestigious Calcutta Medical College. However,he quit his Master in Surgery course after 2 years and returned to his home town Kalna to serve the people here and carry out general practice. The reason was not only personal but also political,he explains. He has always been involved with the Left movement in Bengal and had to run away from home during the emergency period. That time the only option was to study surgery and take up a transferable job. However,after 1984 when things became normal,I quit everything and started general practice in Kalna,to serve people at the grassroots. So involved is the doctor with the local people,that,he says,taking even a few days off becomes problematic.
Dr Goswami humbly talks about how he attends to four patients at one go. Otherwise I will not be able to finish attending to allof them. On normal days,I attend to at least a hundred. Some days I have attended to 200 people,he says. He never sends anyone back without attending,because of which sometimes he has to stay up till midnight. He says,The time between 8 pm to 10 pm I keep reserved to attend to emergency calls or house visits,otherwise the rest of the time I am always present in the chamber.
Moreover,being the Councillor of Kalna Municipality,he has to attend meetings and undertake many welfare measures for his area. He has also served as the Chairman of Kalna Municipality before. On being asked how he manages all these things together,he elaborates,I love working for the people; that keeps me happy and going. Also,the respect and love I get in return gives me enough strength to keep working hard for them.
Surely such hectic schedule and tiring work requires support from the household,which is ably provided by Mrs Goswami. Both my children work in America. I myself get the love and respect of the people of Kalna and I am proud of my husbands service to society. Talking about the meagre fees of rupees 5 that he charges from his patients,she says,I have never had problems running the family kitchen and we are happy,that is all I wanted in life.
Interestingly,Dr Goswami is not the first in his family to take up this noble profession. My grandfather,who was also a doctor,used to treat patients in the same room where I practice today. Those were the days when treatment was a more personalised affair. The population has trebled today and there is no time to talk to the patient. I listen to their symptoms and through my experience and knowledge give them medicines or exercises. I avoid costly examinations as most of my patients are too poor to afford them.
He cites two big problems with the health sector in Kalna. The first being lack of proper education and hygienic consciousness on the part of the rural poor. The second is mistreatment by quacks. He believes that quacks cannot be replaced by trained professionals overnight but they need to stay within limits else often cases become complicated. I also believe that private medical care has a big role to play in the rural health sector,but they need to be more about healthcare and less about business, he adds.
Dr Goswami has always shied away from prizes and recognitions because he believes he has more work to do. A funny incident he recalls happened in the year 2000,when his son was a student at the Presidency College. He recounts,My son told me how he had met a beggar in front of Medical College seeking alms for treatment. When he looked at the prescription,he found my name on it.
With the number of patients swelling outside the chamber,Dr Goswami signs off,saying Once someone had asked me how many days I wish to run the clinic for five rupees. I said,till the time they do not stop minting the coin.