by Swatee Jog
Some people are blessed with the opportunity to touch lives. Dr. Ashok Sakhdev is one of them. He’s some sort of a legend, a messiah also, for many of his patients whom he has cured of seemingly incurable and chronic ailments. My lower back and my vocal cords would vouch for his accurate diagnosis and medicine, for if not him, I would have not had stood up nor spoken a word. Both times, I was advised surgery and I did not need one, doing just fine for the past 5 years. Ever since, I have referred several people, relatives, colleagues, and students among them, who have been cured by him. Not just in Belagavi but his name and fame are spread across the world, sometimes medicines being shipped to those who need them.
I have grown up hearing about him since childhood because, except me, my entire extended family consulted him. His clinic in Mirapur Galli (which he shares with his son Dr. Nitin) has a sparsely furnished waiting room and a packed cabin inside, with several, knick-knacks, books, candid pictures of him perhaps taken by wellwishers and lots of plants. His table always has fresh flowers arranged beautifully that immediately puts the patients at ease. Patients have to wait patiently! It takes time, he says, I never treat without speaking to a patient. It takes 8 parameters to diagnose a patient, he adds, with at least three being crucial- darshanan, sparsham and prashnam (observation, holding the pulse and probing) before I come to some conclusion. He also adds that today no doctor would do these things in detail, and most rely on diagnostic reports to prescribe medicines.
Curiously, Dr. Sakhdev does the other way round. He first uses his tested methods and then refers to the reports to check if his own diagnosis is correct. I found him pull out a stack of books and pore over them for a good 45 minutes, a few months ago, when I consulted him to treat a Jain Sadhvi, before he wrote down the correct medicine adhering to the strict norms of diet. And he immediately instructed his Man Friday to not charge me for that.
Born in 1942 and raised in Belagavi, Dr. Sakhdev’s father worked in the Railways in senior positions and traveled most of the time, being posted at distant places. He completed his education at the Govt. Marathi school in Vadgaon and then won the scholarship for his education from 8th onwards, a princely sum of Rs. 8 per month for 8th std, Rs. 9 for 9th std. and Rs. 10 for the 10th std. His father wanted him to pursue an education in Ayurvedic medicine with the sole aim that he could get a Govt. job at the municipality which would pay him a grand salary of Rs. 150 p.m. So there he went, to get his four-year Diploma in Shuddha Ayurvedic Course at the B.M. Kankanwadi Ayurvedic college and stood first. But destiny had other plans. A family friend referred his name to Dr. N.R. Kulkarni who was looking for an assistant to take over his clinic (at Sheri Galli) for he was traveling abroad to attend a Rotary conference after taking over as the Rotary International Governor (317 district of the past). The first day when he met him, Dr. Kulkarni handed over the keys of his clinic to this newly minted doctor. He could also manage to dissuade this young man to take up running this clinic and the plan of taking up the job was scrapped. Dr. Sakhdev ran this clinic for a good 13 years until Dr. Kulkarni expired. I got to learn a lot from him and Vaidya Jinralkar he says, though the two barely spoke to each other for all those years. Especially the art of Nadi pariksha (reading the pulse). There are over 25 kinds of readings, he adds, with few doctors today being able to make accurate readings. For the uninitiated, Dr. Sakhdev is a rare one of those who are known for his accurate diagnoses through this method.
Dr. Sakhdev was also handed over the Shahapur clinic (in the then Saraf Katta) a place he had to vacate some time later due to legal hassles. He then set up a clinic at Mirapur Galli which is still operational today after all these years. Dr. Sakhdev reminisces days when he waited for hours ( I would treat 2 and a half patients per day, he says tongue in cheek) and an astrologer friend predicted that while he’s waiting for 3 hours for a patient, there would come a time when patients would wait three hours to meet him. His words sounded preposterous back then, but they did come true.
Dr. Sakhdev is a family doctor to several families in Belgaum who approach him, even when they can consult the best doctors in India and abroad. The concept of a family doctor is fast disappearing, he laments. In the current scenario, not having a family doctor entails that no consultant would actually know you well enough to treat you with confidence and without a battery of tests. The family doctor also served the role of a counselor, psychologist, patching up family feuds, matchmaker and also a witness for a will.
What strikes you is that even at the age of 79 (he’s been practicing for 55 years), he stills runs his two clinics, moving around his bike to commute. You needn’t have, I ask him. I shut down for four days, he says, but then decided that he must not stop. So his clinic is functional with due precautions. He does not handle fever patients and refers them to the fever clinics set up. When we speak of CORONA warriors, it is the unsung warriors like Dr. Sakhdev whom we must also acknowledge. He mentions that references to ailments like the current one can be found in the ancient Ayurvedic texts along with the symptoms and cures. However, with few people who know Sanskrit well and most texts being translated versions available today, the gist of the matter is somewhere lost. Asked if the current young generation has taken up to Ayurvedic treatment, Dr. Sakhdev credits Baba Ramdev for rejuvenating the trend. He has one word of caution though, for mass-produced medicines, because Ayurved has a procedure for even praying to the tree a day before and then extracting the correct part of the tree the next morning; the correct kind of parts ( if a shoot is needed, it can’t be replaced with a twig, he says) and the heat needed to burn or process it to make extracts ( use of the right wood or cow-dung cakes for burning, correct temperatures all play a role in retaining the potency of the medicine).
Dr. Sakhdev was awarded Samaj Bhushan Puraskar in 2018 by the Saraswati Vachanalaya, a recognition of his long-standing service to the people of Belagavi. Many feel that his work is still under- recognized. But what he has earned is the blessings of the thousands of people whom he has cured and spared of the plight of diseases. In spite of the precautions, are you not scared of contracting the virus, I ask him. No, he says, I have never never ever been afraid of death. I am prepared to be taken away for quarantine if the need arises, but I will continue with my work, he replies. You don’t need any more words. That’s our true son of Belagavi for you.