Gandhi Comes Alive

Gandhiji And Medicine

-G. R. Talwalkar

IT was in about the middle of 1918 that I first came in personal contact with Mahatma Gandhi. He was then in a bad condition of health due to acute dysentery. Dr. B. N. Kanuga of Ahmedabad was treating him, and was feeling very puzzled as to how to persuade him to take a few injections of emetine which alone was the right remedy for Gandhiji's trouble. But Mahatmaji was firm that he would not ,allow his body to be injected with the medicine, and he asked for some nature cure method of treatment. We, doctors, have not, I must admit, paid sufficient attention to nature cure methods according to Mahatmaji's conception, but I must say that for acute amoebic .dysentery there is no treatment so sure as a few injections of emetine hydrochloride. We were almost at our wit's end how to give Mahatmaji emetine. Suddenly it struck me that, if we proposed to him an enema, he would gladly allow us that procedure. So we proposed to him that we would only give him an enema. He at once agreed, and we added to the enema water a full dose of emetine and morphia. This little procedure had such marvellous effect on our patient within the next twenty-four hours that he voluntarily asked for a repetition of the same enema procedure for five successive days, with the result that his dysentery was cured and he was able to travel from Nadiad to Ahmedabad in a week's time and; placed himself completely under my care without questioning my authority. Soon, however, I discovered that he was taking no food and even no milk. He was under the impression that a dozen or two of oranges were enough for maintaining his nutrition; and when I said that it could not support his body and strength for more than a few days, he challenged me to convince him about the -fallacy of his fancy. So I showed to him from a well- known authority on dietetics that, if a man wished to live entirely on oranges, he would require about 50 to 75 oranges a day to give him enough nourishment, but that would more certainly produce diarrhoea. Mahatmaji was at once convinced, and from that day he began to take rice and chapati as his daily diet, but he would not take a single drop of milk. We, doctors, believe that, for pure vegetarians as we Hindus are, milk is the most precious and indispensable animal protein diet. I tried my best to persuade Gandhiji to take milk, but he would not agree on this point. A few months later when he was in Bombay the late Surgeon A. K. Dalal, with the help of Kasturba) was able to persuade Gandhiji to take goat's milk. The story is narrated by Gandhiji in his autobiography.

For some time after Gandhiji resumed to take rice and chapatis, in spite of good feeding, he did not pick up energy satisfactorily, and I was getting anxious about his future. At this juncture came into the field one Dr. Kelkar who had for some time studied the use of naturotherapy in the form of rubbing the back with ice as a valuable and rapid method of bringing vigour to the body. At first this good and sincere man was a butt of ridicule by some inmates of the Ashram, and Gandhiji would not let himself be experimented upon by this faithful apostle of naturopathy. Gandhiji asked my opinion about this novel treatment. When I whole-heartedly endorsed the views of Dr. Kelkar the ice treatment began, and within a fortnight Gandhiji so much improved in health and, vigour that I willingly offered half the credit of having cured him at that time to Dr. Kelkar.

In 1935 Gandhiji had high blood pressure, and his condition at times caused much concern to many of his doctors. At this juncture somebody (I do not know who it was) suggested the use of garlic as a remedy against high blood pressure. It was then that I sent to Harijan some of my views on the medicinal virtues of garlic, as I had long since known that in the south of Italy garlic was much used by the poor as a remedy against tuberculosis,and one Dr. Minchin in Ireland highly praised the local application of garlic poultice to tuberculous glands and sinuses as an effective remedy. The late Shri Mahadevbhai got intensely interested in the use of garlic, and Wrote to me a letter asking for my experiences with it. I had been using a concentrated extract of garlic in cases of lung tuberculosis with very gratifying results, but I could not convince my medical brothers about this. However, I found that Gandhiji at once took to the daily use of garlic; and I yet believe that his continued good health for years after his high blood pressure had frightened doctors out of their wits, may be attributed to the regular use of garlic. Gandhiji always had an open mind; and though inconveniently inquisitive at the beginning, he was the most enthusiastic follower of a principle once he was convinced about its soundness. Here is the key of a great mind.

Bombay, 5-6-1948.