A Top-bottom Mix-up Muddle

Mar 23, 2011

You tell the doctor y’are ill
And what does he but write a bill,
Of which you need not read one letter,
The worst the scrawl, the dose the better.
For if you know but what you take
Though you recover, he must break.                                                                                         
-         Mathew Prior, English poet and diplomatist (1664-1721).
In Tulu language there is a saying “Anne barethina, annene vodod” – meaning what elder brother has written, only he can read. This could be because he is the only literate person in the family or his scrawl is beyond deciphering by others. The scrawls of doctors, not all of them though, are famous or infamous, depending how they work out at the dispensing chemist’s end. Some chemists are mind-readers and end up dispensing as the doctor intended. In other cases, chemists read what they want to read and end up dispensing what the doctor didn’t intend through his lazy scrawl. This can lead to disaster or end up in comic episodes. The latter happened to me recently.
Perhaps due to years of dying the thinning hair, some corrosive signs were noticed on the scalp and, on a visit to Mumbai, a noted dermatologist was consulted. And what did he do but write a bill and a prescription to justify the bill. My local doctor in Mangalore cannot boast of an easily decipherable handwriting. But he has a helpful practice of asking the patients to come back with the medicines dispensed by the chemist – to check if they conform to the prescription. He doesn’t distrust the readability of his scrawl but distrusts the deciphering prowess of the chemists.
 I had consulted the Mumbai specialist on the last day of my stay there. So, the six tubes of cream to last six weeks of treatment were dispensed by a leading chemist in Mangalore. So, the question of rechecking with consultant was ruled out. Even if I were in Mumbai, I doubt if I would have gone back to the consultant with the cream packet.  I had already paid ten times the local doctor’s visit fee for one consultation. How am I to be sure that the consultant wouldn’t charge me for the verification visit?
Six weeks of treatment over, the before-and-after photo prints showed no visibly discernible change on the pate. May be one more tube of cream might produce the desired results. So, I went around the local smaller chemists for a tube. None of them had the prescribed tube of cream. Instead they offered “Pilon” and not “Picon”, clearly written by the consultant.  On further prodding, they said that Pilon was for piles. Sensing something wrong, I went back to the leading chemist of my earlier purchase point and drew a blank on Picon. They have not heard of Picon and apparently misread the prescription, and given me what they had in stock Pilon. The bottom-line is that I used for the head what was meant for the bottom! I felt cheated as the whole exercise turned out to be pointless and futile as the pregnant woman rubbing vanishing cream on her bloating tummy with the hope of flattening it.
But, it is not for the first time my top has suffered indignity on account of linguistic deficit -  written or verbal. Fifty years ago, when I first landed in the then Bombay, I was to attend impending  midnight Christmas Mass at the Cooperage Ground, with  Cardinal Valerian Gracias as the main celebrant. A hair-cut was apt for the occasion. I went to the saloon and presuming that the barber didn’t know English instructed him in Hindi. But, then a novice for Hindi, instead of saying “Accha karo”, as I would have said today, I said “Saaf Karo” and promptly went to sleep on the barber’s chair. When he woke me up at the end of his job, I was horrified to find my clean shaven pate.
 Determined to attend the midnight Mass, I bought a Muslim cap to cover the bald pate and set out for Cooperage Ground. As I was entering the Ground with my hosts, the cardinal also arrived in his festive regalia. The TV crew and press photographers focused on him and his entourage with their spot lights and flash bulbs. But suddenly they turned the spotlights on me, even as I tried to duck away from them. They beat it to me and I, with my Muslim cap, became the visual for their TV commentary about the midnight mass being attended by “members of all communities”! 
That takes me to yet another hairy dying experience. Like menopause for women, men have midlife blues best manifested by receding hairline, expanding tonsure and progressive invasion of salt and depletion of pepper on the crown. As this was happening to me, I came across a story where a middle-aged man, to validate his robust virility, kept a mistress in a safe-house and alternated his bed-time between his wife and mistress. The former, a traditional housewife without education and economic independence, had to acquiescence her husband’s double deal. But, she planned a strategy to rescue her husband from the interloper. The nights her husband spent with her, she would lace his drinks with sleeping pills and as he went into deep slumber after the quickies, she would pluck his black hair (pepper) so as to make him unattractive to her younger, illegal rival. At the other end, when the man spent his nights with his mistress, she would pluck his white hair (salt) to keep him looking young and attractive. In no time our hero became a zero on the top pate – making him unattractive both to his pathni and mistress.
Though there was no clear and immediate danger of anything turning up for me like what happened to this man, hope lives eternal in the human breast. So, I decided to banish both pepper and salt and get into jet black by dying. You dye to live – with borrowed dignity and fake youthfulness. The price you pay for not ageing with grace and dignity is to suffer corrosive dyes and chemicals on your scalp. And you become fodder for the dermatologists.
My consultant in Mumbai heard my misadventure of mis-red prescription and allowed a faint smile to cross his face. Instead of laughing out my idiotic episode, he put a positive spin on it, saying if Pilon had worked on my scalp, as well as was expected of Ficon, We would have had a new discovery in medicine bypassing expensive and time-consuming clinical trials – by accidental serendipity. Doctors can be smug because they carry a comprehensive insurance  favouring them, no matter what they do – as noted by Francis Quarles, English poet (1592-1644): “Physicians, of all men, are most happy: whatever the success they have, the world proclaimeth and what faults they commit, the earth covereth.”
John B. Monteiro, journalist and author, is editor of his website www.welcometoreason.com (Interactive Cerebral Challenger).

By John B. Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • Antony Herbert Crasta, Mangalore/Sydney,Australia

    Fri, Mar 25 2011

    "Anne Barethina Annene Vodod" - this famous old tulu saying referred to in this article reminded me of my own experience - way back, when I was 10 or 12 years old. I used to be constantly asked by my mother to read for her the letters that were sent by my elder brother who was working in Bombay then. I had quite a bit of difficulty in reading his hand writing on several occasions and used to complain her in konkani that "Daktiyaban boroillen daktiyabanch vachije". Of course, my brother`s handwriting drastically got improved when my mother finally communicated my complain to him. By the way, enjoyed the story of the writer with regard to his hair cutting and dyeing experience and ïndeed had a hearty laugh.

  • prashantha, mangalore

    Thu, Mar 24 2011

    Very nice article.

  • , divya

    Wed, Mar 23 2011

    it was a very nice article.big applaud for the writer.BTW STILL LAUGHING:)

  • Dinesh, Mangalore/USA

    Wed, Mar 23 2011

    This was very enlightening and entertaining. That too, when I had considered using some masi to convert my increasing grey into black.

    If you think only humans have a problem making one person's writing unreadable to another, think again. I have spent hours and hours in the last two months explaining 'decoding' what our computer is sending to another computer. That other computer has so far been unable to 'decode', even though I am willing to teach! But first I have to teach the humans, ayyo! So many meetings so that not only Palaye, but also Megye can read!!

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