September 07, 2009

The Doctor is Out

Except on Sundays Dr. K. S. Porwal opens his clinic opposite Digvijay Textile Mills in Lalbaug at ten each morning, leaving for lunch at 1 p.m. before returning to reopen it at six in the evening, continuing until nine in the night before retiring home. Thursday evenings are an exception. He does not return to the clinic. On Sundays it remains closed all day.

His clinic is on the ground floor of an old building in the formerly bustling mill ‘town’ of Lalbaug where Digvijay Textile Mills once employed thousands. In time the mill died, robbing Lalbaug of vitality and most importantly, hope. But once every year Lalbaug comes alive during Ganesh Chaturthi as hundreds of thousands of devotees descend on it over eleven days to offer prayers to Lalbaug cha Raja (The King of Lalbaug), the largest Ganpati around town, actually the largest anywhere. This year the Ganesh Chaturthi festivities in the city kicked off on August 23.

For over seventy years the tradition has survived in Lalbaug. It will survive Lalbaug too now that former mill lands are making way for residential high rises. Lalbaug merits a story of its own, many stories of its own actually. Maybe I’ll return to Lalbaug another time when there’s no music in the air and dancing in the streets.

The queue of devotees come to pay obeisance to Lalbaug cha Raja ran around the corner, past the New Sardar restaurant and Eastern Metal Works, all the way to Byculla station.

We stayed out of the queue. There was much happening on the streets of Lalbaug and I was not about to let my camera rest easy in the confines of the queue for hours on end while it inched along, past the entrance to Digvijay Textile Mills. It was day seven of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival when thousands of households pour into the streets to parade the genial lord on their way to immersing him to the cries of Ganapati Bappa Moraya.

The street was full of people. Trucks stood on standby awaiting families carrying Ganapatis for immersion at Girgaum Chowpatty.

“It is crowded off Dadar so most of us head to the sea at Girgaum,” a man told me in Marathi while the Ganpati he had arrived with was gently hoisted aboard the truck to join other Ganpatis brought by other families heading for immersion. There was much merriment around and much sadness too. In the days that Ganpati graces homes he becomes a part of the family. Imminent separation as per tradition leaves behind many a choking voice.

It began to drizzle. We stepped off the street to shelter on the narrow platform fronting Dr. Porwal’s clinic in an old building. Steps cut into the platform led to the clinic. On either side there was space enough to settle down and watch the world go by. The door was bolted. A well used Navtal lock contrasted starkly against the white of the door. Devotees continued to stream past us. A loudspeaker announced over the festive din, exhorting devotees queuing up for darshan of Lalbaug cha Raja to be beware of pickpockets. Guns holstered, the Police watched over devotees. Every once in a while their wireless sets crackled to life.

A woman passing by stopped in front of the clinic, reached for a piece of paper lodged in the bolt, read it and deposited it back before going her way.

A few minutes later another woman, leading her little daughter, stopped in front of the clinic, reached for the same paper, read it and deposited it back after writing something on the back. We learnt from her that the doctor was probably away at home that day preparing for visarjan (immersion) of Ganpati installed in his house.

After she left, curious, I had a look at the piece of paper that was actually a railway ticket. On the back were scribbled five names of patients who had come looking for the doctor that day.

Later a girl in a colourful orange salwar kameez did likewise, reaching for the paper before leaning over and using the door for support she wrote her name down on the back of the ticket and folding it she wedged it in the space between the lock and the door.

I wondered as to its purpose. Was it to tell the doctor on his return that so many patients had come looking for him? If so why not phone him? Maybe he was not available on the phone. The other possibility was to ensure a queue was in place when the clinic opened the next day. For that to happen all the patients who had written down their names on the back of the railway ticket had to present themselves at the same time when the clinic opened the next day else the list would serve little purpose. Moreover what were the chances of that happening?

Or could it be that if the doctor happened to get to know of the list of patients who came looking for him he might decide to open up earlier assuming someone informed him.

It was apparent that Dr. Porwal’s clinic in Lalbaug was a long time resident on the street, long enough to get to know families well, long enough for families to leave their names on a piece of paper tucked behind the lock.


Sarah Laurence said...

A ticket mystery. You could be a novelist yourself, thinking of all the possible plot permutations. I love the girl's bright orange against her dark hair.

Anu said...

This was just too beautiful! you have painted a wonderful portait of Lalbaug through this one.....

SloganMurugan said...

Lalbaug cha Raja. I have seen and read a lot about him and Lalbaug but this one is different and special. You know how to dig deep man. Keep it up.

Lakshmi said...

Interestg way of communication..communities are so strong in Mumbai ..

Anil P said...

Sarah Laurence: Thank you. There're possibly permutations I missed as well. The dress was in keeping with the colour on the street.

Anu: Thank you.

Slogan Murugan: Thank you. While other Ganapati Mandals are active as well it is Lalbaug that gets the most press.

Lakshmi: I thought it was very innovative. It surely had more of a 'personal touch' to the communication, something I would associate with the nature of an old neighbourhood.

Claire said...

somehow this spells kinship for me.

Granny J said...

Why would the textile mills have closed down?

Innocent Warrior said...

Awesome Post!!!

Celeste Maia said...

I loved your story, and could go on reading. Such beautiful descriptions of everyday life in Lalbaug. Dr. Porwal's clinic and the way patients let him know - when he is not open - that they need to see him, is just wonderful. You write and illustrate so well!

neha said...

The days before the festival are pretty fascinating as well; the dingy workshops around Lalbaug are full, the artists are busy working and the idols are in varied states of completion. It's brilliant.

Lucy said...

Funny, I don't believe anyone in the west feels any grief when they take down their Santas and Christmas trees. The devotional feeling for their Ganpati must simply be more genuine.

That orange salwaar-kameez is a stunner!

Anil P said...

Claire: Kindred Soul :-)

Granny J: Many. Economics, Union Strikes (key reason), Politics, and the muscling in of the underworld.

Innocent Warrior: Thank you.

Celeste Maia: Thank you. It's a pleasure and an encouragement to read the way you feel of the posts.

Neha: Very much so. I came across one workshop where many Ganapatis still sat on shelves, 'not taken', a few were resting outside. A sad sight.

Lucy: Emotions differ, maybe it is cultural, maybe it is the depth of feelings, maybe it is the import of the meaning the festivities hold for the very identity of the faith practiced by the populace.

Paz said...

A very popular doctor. I enjoyed your narration very much.


Cate said...

This is a great story about community even in these days. Love the photos as well, they give depth to the story.

kenju said...

Maybe you can go back and ask the doctor about it. Perhaps he needs to provide a pen and some paper by the door when he is absent.

Anil P said...

Paz: Thank you. He sure seems to be practicing there for a long time. The clinic is old, surely.

Cate: Thank you. It appears that they came to his clinic not knowing it would be closed that day on account of Ganapati Visarjan (7th day).

The Visarjan on 11th day known as Anantchaturdashi day sees record crowds in Lalbaug, with many commercial establishments remaining closed that day in Lalbaug.

Kenju: I was thinking on the same lines.

bindu said...

Very interesting. You have a keen sense of observation!

Anil P said...

Bindu: Thank you.

Coffee Messiah said...

That's pretty interesting, especially in these times.

I remember when I was a wee one, that a doctor came to our house. Late '50s, but still.

I've read there are a few doctors on their own here in the usa who still do that and find it beneficial, not only to the client, but to themselves.


Anil P said...

Coffee MessiahVery much so. In the hinterland many, many years ago, a village doctor visiting a patient at home usually meant the patient was far gone, resulting in concerned village folk gathering in courtyards and talking in hushed tones.

Happy faces would shine on learning all was not over yet.

Doctors used to be held in awe, and still are in many places.

Rujuta said...

Interesting!! Especially the harmonious communication with the doctor!!!

magiceye said...

loved this post!
could relate to so many things you described!
have passed through this area but never been to see the raja yet!

Anil P said...

Rujuta: Thank you. Communication with a personal touch.

Magic Eye: Thank you. I haven't seen the Lalbaug cha Raja either! That day the queue was close to five hours long! So spent time around the place.