Bitter medicine for Baaje kotha

Had I thought of Pratapbabu in time I might have been able to save the Dynamic Duo a lot of wasted time and trouble. 

The Dynamic Duo are called the Dynamic Duo because they’ve so many things to do, dynamically. 

To begin with there’s this spanking new Parliament complex that’s got to be licked into shape, all in matching shades of saffron, with a price tag of Rs 1,345 crore and counting. 

And as if that weren’t enough there’s that Rs 1,100 crore theme park coming up in Ayodhya, a Disneyland for the devout that’s been yonks in the planning and is finally beginning to see the light that is the dawn of Ram raj, an advent which will once and for all put an end to the carping of quibblers and kibitzers demanding a serum raj in the form of a sufficiency of a prasad known as vaccines.

There was no doubt about it. The Dynamic Duo had more than enough to deal with on their thalis.

But, being the Dynamic Duo, and determined to live up to their adjectival prefix, nothing would do but that they must put it all on the backburner to head for Bengal or bust.

And that’s when I ought to have remembered Pratapbabu. Sixty-some years ago, in then Calcutta, Pratapbabu, as we all called him, was our family doctor, or GP, as members of his noble profession were referred to.

Every Sunday morning Pratapbabu would come to our house to check up on us. It wasn’t as though we were a singularly unhealthy lot who needed regular and frequent medical examination to detect any lurking malaise. Like not a few Calcutta middle class families in those days in our domestic budget we made provision for an annual retainer for a GP to make a weekly, or bi-weekly, house call.

So Pratapbabu would turn up at our place every Sunday morning. After he had been offered tea and the Thin Arrowroot biscuits to which he was partial, he would enquire after the health of my mother, my elder sister, and myself: any sniffles, chills, headaches, aberrant bowel movements? 

If the answer to any of these was in the affirmative, which was seldom, a stuck-out tongue would be examined, stethoscope applied, and, most importantly, the pulse taken.

When deemed necessary a prescription would be penned for a mysterious cure-all called a Mixture which would be concocted by a chemist’s compounder and delivered in a cork-stoppered bottle with a notched strip of paper stuck on the side to denote dosage.

The Mixture was a viscous liquid of unprepossessing hue and commensurate vileness of taste.  It always worked. But all this, not excluding the requisitioning of the Mixture if required, was only the overture to Pratapbabu’s weekly oratorio of oracular insight to which we were the privileged audience.

For much more than being an accomplished diagnostician of the individual body physical, Pratapbabu was equally, if not even more, proficient in reading with uncanny accuracy the tell-tale signs of anything not up to snuff in the body politic, both national and international.

Preliminaries over, protruding tongues and stethoscope stowed away, Pratapbabu would get down to the real business of the day, which was a delivery by him of a disquisition – delivered in a voice which I’d have described as a rich baritone if I’d known the word, which I didn’t – on the policies of CM BC Roy, the Suez crisis, the inequities of America’s PL-480, and much else besides.

He spoke with the magisterial authority of a BBC news announcer who’d unaccountably switched from the Queen’s English to Bankim’s Bengali.

Any views diverging from those expressed by him were dismissed with a laconic and irrefutable: Baaje kotha.

The trope is unamenable to Anglophone translation, the nearest equivalent being ‘Codswallop’, or if none of tender age or ears is present, “Utter bollocks!”

Had I thought of Pratapbabu in time I could have advised the Dynamic Duo to save their lung power and vocal chords in Bengal.

As it is they had to hear it on their own: Baaje kotha. Or, in other words, they asked for and got just what the doctor didn’t order.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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