In the past, when I’ve seen India on the television, I would think to myself “I could never go there, with all the mad chaos, traffic, crowds of people”.
I was nearing the end of my fourth year at The Allen College of Homoeopathy. Obviously I knew about the Bengal Allen Post Graduate course in Calcutta and I thought perhaps I would like to do it one day. I overheard a fellow student mention she was going, which got me thinking, but I thought I have a project to do, presentation to prepare, another six patients to find, exams coming up and couldn’t afford it after Christmas …………
We arrived at Calcutta airport at 1am in the morning and got a taxi to our hotel. It was quite a bumpy ride and it looked like a ghost town. When we arrived at our hotel in Sudder Street, the gate was chained up, dogs were howling and there were people sleeping on the streets. Eventually someone came to unlock the gate. He had a hunched back and a beret on, which made it all the more creepy. I thought “What have I let myself in for?”. Our room was very basic and I couldn’t sleep at all that night. At about 5am there was this wailing noise coming from a mosque I think, which we heard every morning for the next three weeks.
The next morning, we decided to go and explore. We came to a market place that was quite chaotic and noisy. Almost immediately we were approached by children asking for money. They spoke great English, were very friendly and so of course we fell for it. There was also a lady with a baby asking us to buy some milk for her, which we did. But when we looked around, there were two more ladies with their babies. So a lesson was learned, that it is best to donate money to a charity ie. The Calcutta Milk Project and Mobile Medical Unit, which provides free homoeopathic treatment and milk to the orphans and slum dwelling children.
Back at the hotel, we phoned Dr. Banerjea and Janet Banerjea to let them know we had arrived okay. They arranged for someone to come and pick us up later that day, from our hotel. We drove through Sudder Street which seemed mad with horns tooting, as we weaved in and out of the traffic.
We arrived at The Bengal Allen Medical Institute, relieved to see Janet and Dr. Banerjea standing there to greet us. They joined us in the car and we were then whisked off to the Ganges, stopping along the way for tea and spicy snacks in the car. It all seemed a bit surreal. We spent some time walking along the Ganges watching all the different things going on. We went on to a Hotel called the Oberoi, where they searched the car and frisked us all, due to this being a sister hotel of the one in Mumbai where the siege took place. It was a beautiful hotel and such a contrast to where we had come from on Sudder Street.
The next day we arrived by taxi to begin our first day at The Bengal Allen Medical Institute. We were welcomed by the staff and some young girls all beautifully dressed in bright colours, danced for us and gave us garlands of flowers.
We had a meeting with all the teachers and met PK who was like our chaperone for the next three weeks at the college. He made sure we had everything from books to mosquito nets, water etc. We had a great lunch provided by the Institute along with morning and afternoon snacks. The lunch was also provided for the duration of our stay. The information booklet given was excellent, all the do’s and dont’s, where to eat and where not to, best shops, restaurants, sight- seeing, transport and lots more. I learnt throughout my stay to stick to the rule book and I’d be fine.
We decided to brave it and walk to college the next day, about two miles from our hotel. The first couple of times, you just want to get through everything and everyone as quickly as possible. But gradually you get used to it all, and the sights you see along the way are quite fascinating.
Everything is so bustling and such a mixture. There are people washing with their buckets of water and soap, or sitting having their haircut or a shave. Cooking is going on everywhere, and it all looks and smells nice… but don’t be tempted.
There are poor people sleeping on the pavements and children asking for money. Then you see a group of children walking along all smartly dressed in school uniforms. The worse thing I saw was a man with a huge thick scab on his leg and he was slicing it off with a knife.
Walking through the food markets there was an abundance of vegetables and spices, all the colours you can think of. Fresh fish being gutted, chickens in big trays clucking away, strung up in big bunches hanging on the handlebars of a bike. Stray dogs were just trotting along and seemed quite harmless. Another odd thing to see was a lot of the men walking along holding hands, apparently just a sign of friendship. The roads can be difficult to cross, as I don’t think red lights and crossings carry much weight.
After all this we arrive at the college for a 9 am start. The time-table for the next three weeks looks really exciting. There are class lectures, visits to the slum clinics, prescribing from a mobile van, sitting in on Dr. Banerjea’s clinics, rural clinic and rapid prescribing at Arpuli Lane.
I thoroughly enjoyed all the clinics, which were all different and interesting. If they were close by we were escorted to them by PK, but for others we got a taxi or were driven in the mobile prescribing van. By now the sun was shining and it was growing warmer, but not too hot.
My favourite day was when we went to the Rural Medical Camp in Kadambagachi, which is on the outskirts of Calcutta, with Janet and Dr. Banerjea. It was so peaceful. There’s a monk who lives there, and he and others provided lunch for us, which was presented on a banana leaf. To quench our thirst we were given a coconut with a straw in it. We had a laugh at the toilets, which were clean, but consisted of two concrete blocks to balance on and a hole. It wasn’t so funny when we needed to go later on and it was pitch black. The actual clinic itself was busy and saw quite a few patients that day.
I enjoyed the clinical prescribing in the mobile van with Dr. Medha Bhatt. In the slums the children are so excited to see you. They thought it was great having their pictures taken and they all looked clean and smart, with great big grins on their faces. It was a whole new experience prescribing like this. The case was taken and we were able to make the choice of remedy and then it was dispensed from the back of the van.
The rapid prescribing at Arpuli lane Out Patients Clinic was brilliant. Dr. Banerjea is able to prescribe on two or three symptoms. The quickest one I remember, was a man who said he had a pain and proceeded to point to it, with one finger…”kali-bich…done !” said Dr. Banerjea, as you probably know Kali-bich has pains in small spots, that can be covered with the tip of a finger.
It was great sitting in on Dr. Banerjeas clinics at the Bengal Allen Medical Institute. I learned so much. Some were new cases and others were follow-ups. We went through the cases and discussed them, enabling us to see why he had prescribed that particular remedy. Dr. Banerjeas’ lectures ware always brilliant, inspiring and exciting, and he shares many stories, along with his clinical and ancestral tips and his great knowledge of miasms. I feel very fortunate to have been taught by him at the Allen College for four years.
We also visited the clinics of Dr. Mahadeb De and Dr. Debasish Mukherjee, which were really interesting and different in their own ways. Dr. Mahadeb De only uses LM potencies in his clinic, and what a character he is. Dr. Debasish Mukherjee gave us a practical demonstration in pharmacy and also gave us a lecture on LMs.
All the lecturers were great and all very individual in their approach to homoeopathy. It was also very interesting to see some of the gross pathologies. We had lectures with Dr. Vivekananda Bagchi, where certain cases were analysed with the patients present. We saw a lady with an advanced case of encysted granuloma on her right eye and a case of breast cancer with a hard adhered tumour. We also saw a case of chronic osteomyelitis (discharging sinus) in the leg.
The course was coming to an end and we had a presentation day, received our certificates and had lunch with all the teachers. Having been in Calcutta for three weeks, I felt like I could have stayed longer, but obviously I was missing my family and had to go home and face doing my project, presentation, cases and start studying for exams ! It was a spur of the moment decision to go, and an experience I will never regret.
Calcutta grows on you, the people are warm and friendly and most of them have a great sense of humour. I even grew to like Sudder Street, although I never really felt unsafe there. Hotel staff were very polite, our laundry was sent and came back the same day. There’s plenty of safe places to eat and shops with everything. If you like buying clothes and jewellery you’ll have a field day (just need a big suitcase).
It was easy to exchange money, also phoning home was so cheap, even to a mobile.
The Bengal Allen Medical Insitute Programme has been running for nearly twenty seven years now. It is so well organized and Janet and Dr. Banerjea do a great job along with the other staff at the Institute, to make you feel welcome.
Oh and I forget to mention, I didn’t once have Delhi belly……………………