During my childhood, the government apothecary at Thycattussarry was called to the house only rarely. The much respected Kuncharath Vaidyans provided medical care at our ancestral home, Thekkanatt Parayil. Members of this ancient Syrian Christian family were, traditionally, experts at Ayurveda.Once a month or so the chief vaidyan would come to Thekkanatt and take stock of the health situation. He knew the medical history of each member of the family precisely without keeping any written records
Separate rooms and staff were maintained to provide the ayurvedic stuff that was required. We used to say that the entire area smelt of ‘nattuvaidyam’ (ayurveda). There were all sorts of fluids (kashayam), pills, powders, and pastes (lehyams) for oral consumption.
Then there were ointments (kuzhambu), pastes and various types of oils for external applications. Every Friday afternoon the children were to have oil bath. They hated the ritual mainly because they were not allowed to go outdoors after the oil bath, which meant no games.
The bathwater was heated with some medicinal leaves. The water drawn from the well was poured into a channel that ran inside to fill the large vessels in the bathroom. There was an opening on the wall, below the container, through which fire could be lighted and controlled from outside. It was necessary to maintain a particular temperature.
The responsibility to ensure that all the preparations were available was entrusted to Sanku, fair and handsome and Karutha, dark and not good-looking. Some of the items had shelf life while others had to be prepared afresh each time. Most of the herbs were available on our lands. Grandfather had a passion for medicinal and other rare plants as he had for birds and animals.
There is a story that when a particular herb was not available locally, Sanku went to the suppliers in nearby towns. None of them had it. Finally, a vaidyan told Sanku that the ingredient was available only at Thekkanatt Parayil. He even mentioned the precise location where the plant grew. Sanku tried to keep this instance of his ignorance secret, but somehow it leaked out.
Whether Sanku was present or not, Karutha, with his assistants, invariably attended to the tough job of almost incessant churning of whatever preparation was in process over fire in a large flat cauldron.
I still remember the impatience to get through with the oil bath, the smell of herbs that hung heavily in the air and the fuss about drying the hair properly. After a servant did the initial drying, either Ammachi or grandmother or one of the elder ladies of the house would check. And there was the ritual of rubbing ‘rasnadi podi’, an herbal powder, at the top of the head to ensure that no trace of moisture was left.
Only after that we would be released.