He comes punctually at 9 am at the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) office in Kankurgachi – Ward no. 32, under Borough III. He has been a ‘Medical Officer’ since 2006, though at this particular ward only from 2015. The ward is located in the ground floor of a two-storied blue building, adjacent to a park. A spanking new and more spacious building is coming up right next to it, where the office is slated to shift in another year or two. But the current outfit is small. The entrance has a lobby where patients wait. One has to turn left to access the main office. As one enters that corridor, one finds little rooms allocated to different ‘departments’: on the left are the ‘Immunization’ and ‘Waste Management’ departments; on the right, the ‘Electrical’ and ‘Health’ departments; and at the very end, the medical laboratory. The Health department has two divisions – the doctor’s chamber and the medical officer’s administrative office. Here, the two functions are fused into one – or rather, squeezed into one little room. With files and papers overflowing everywhere, there’s just enough space for doctor and patient to sit facing each other. The stream of patients is endless, mostly from the nearby slums, who come for free treatment and medicine. It seemed to me, in a brief half-hour visit, that they don’t come until things are really bad. Sample this: a little girl with a ‘perek’ (nail) in her foot that has been allowed to stay there for 2 days; a middle-aged woman with high fever for 5 days; a man with a stomach upset for 3 days. It seemed the poor are wary of taking free service – but it was just one part of the story, I later learnt from the doctor. Many of the patients who come to him are actually quite aware about the medical services that they can avail of at his KMC ward, and don’t waste any time to do so! But either way, to spend several hours every morning in this office must be a daily lesson in the ground realities of the state of health of the urban poor. I’m sure it keeps the doctor grounded.
I recently took an appointment with the doctor in question – Saurabh Basu – at his KMC office to witness first-hand this side of his profession. It is a side I was not even aware of till a few months back. I knew the private Nursing Homes he is associated with, in one of which my mother had died. In fact, for a long time, the only association of him that I had in my mind was that – he was the only doctor who was available on a stormy evening in August 2016 when my mother had a sudden severe cerebral attack and my octogenarian father was at a loss what to do. But for Saurabh’s prompt presence, the ambulance would have been out of bounds for Baba. Ma didn’t survive the attack. She went into coma the very next day, was brain-dead the 2nd day & finally her heart gave way on the 3rd. There was nothing much that we could do. But what Saurabh had done, I can never forget: even if I had not met him ever again in my life, I would have been eternally grateful to him for that one evening, when he was by my father’s side.
Saurabh’s association with my parents had started a couple of years before that. When both didi and I lived abroad. I had heard about him from Ma – about a young doctor who sometimes came to see her at home. Ma’s health had deteriorated since we had left. But she was very reluctant to visit doctors or have medicines. Especially since she seemed to manage with her daily routine pretty well without them. This was, however, a sore point with Baba: they had endless fights over this and Baba would frequently complain about it over the phone to both us daughters. (Ma too had her bagful of bitter complaints – of a different kind – against Baba. We heard them both. Scolded them both, by turns – from thousands of miles away. Nothing changed. They continued being themselves). But sometimes in the later years, when Ma fell very ill, it was genuinely difficult for her to visit a clinic – as most of them involved quite a bit of walking & crossing a dangerous junction. House-visits of GPs was the only option left then. But the 2 GPs we had were out of reach: one had recently died, and in any case, being a very senior doctor, he never came home; the other, much younger, did, at first – but after a while, his private practice became so successful that he had no time for visiting patients at all. Enter Saurabh. Who lived and worked (at least for part of the day) close to our building. And – a very important ‘and’ – had a compassionate heart!
It is solely because of this quality that his relationship has endured with my father – after he became a widower. Baba was doing fine in the first year after Ma’s death. But in Feb/Mar 2018, he had a freak kidney failure that kept him 5 weeks in the ICU and almost took his life. Luckily, he survivied, but he has been a shadow of himself ever since – frail, his (almost mythical) confidence shaken, his health unpredictable, and his mental condition eternally panicky and anxious. After several bed-ridden months, post his hospitalization, he has been back on his feet, but he keeps suffering from some ailment or the other. Often, he thinks them to be more than what they are. And when in distress, he calls Saurabh, requesting him to pay a visit. Saurabh obliges – unfailingly! He is very patient with this patient of his! It must be said on Baba’s behalf that he is very meticulous and methodical. He keeps everything ready before Saurabh’s visit: all his problems are listed, point-wise, in a paper; followed by queries about medicines, similarly listed; followed by the most recent blood reports, chronologically arranged. All this, “to make the most effective use of time”. But the actual elaboration invariably goes contrary to plan! If I happen to be present during such a visit, I just lose my cool. But the doctor doesn’t. In fact, he even indulges in a bit of a chat with his patient!
This patient-friendliness, he told me, he has imbibed from his own father – Dr. Siddhartha Kumar Basu – who inspired the son to join his profession. Basu Sr. was not only a good doctor/ gynaecologist, but also a far-sighted professional. Acutely feeling the lack of a Nursing Home in his locality, he opened one in 1981 – AROGYA – which became part of the landscape of our childhood. A landmark. Located right on the main road, just a few yards from the Kankurgachi ‘more’, close to the 3A bus-stand. In fact, after graduating from Calcutta Medical College in 1999, and post his internship and house-staff-ship at his alma mater, it is in AROGYA that Saurabh invested the early years of his professional life. Unfortunately, things were not going too well after his father’s death in 2001, and AROGYA had to be closed down in October 2007. A very painful moment for the family.
Saurabh had by then already joined KMC, and was married. His private practice, however, picked up a little later – after the birth of his son (his lucky charm)! And has only strengthened ever since. But thankfully, he still has time for old patients!