Nostalgic Memory Lane of a Medical Doctor
Birth of a baby and early childhood seven decades ago
Vanam Jwala Narasimha Rao
The Hans India (19-03-2023)
(‘Hopping Memories’, written and published by Late Dr AP Ranga Rao, a Medical Doctor, a great scholar, unparalleled humanist and realist of our times, whose mere existence and an unexpected chance crossing of paths has transformed innumerable lives. This book is a window to the simple way in which he has lived a very complex and multidimensional life, never losing sight of the immediate for the unknown, yet never missing out on the unknown for the safe. Dr Ranga Rao, as many knew him, to his credit, conceptualized 108 Ambulance services which became a torchbearer for many states in the country; 104 Health Information Helpline Service; 104 Fixed Day Health services and introduced the world famous ‘Jaipur foot’ in erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh-Editor, The Hans India).
Seven-eight decades ago, infancy and childhood nostalgic memories were fascinating. We hardly find persons capturing the learning points in them and passing on to posterity for comparing past and present. However, an exhaustive book, less known and less circulated, titled ‘Hopping Memories’, written and published by Late Dr AP Ranga Rao, a Medical Doctor, beautifully narrated these facts of great interest. Dr AP Ranga Rao, as many knew him, to his credit, conceptualized 108 Ambulance services which became a torchbearer for many states in the country; 104 Health Information Helpline Service; 104 Fixed Day Health services and introduced the world famous ‘Jaipur foot’ in erstwhile united Andhra Pradesh.
Aditya Krishna Roy in his introduction to the book wrote that: ‘the book is penned by a great scholar, unparalleled humanist and realist of our times, whose mere existence and an unexpected chance crossing of paths has transformed innumerable lives. This book is a window to the simple way in which he has lived a very complex and multidimensional life, never losing sight of the immediate for the unknown, yet never missing out on the unknown for the safe’. Interestingly the book Hopping Memoirs, gives us not only a peep into the life of him but also gives us a wide landscape of our society in all its splendor through various stages of happiness, sorrow, setbacks, victories, small mercies, wonderful human relationships within the family as well as outside of it. The best among all and in essence, is the decades back nostalgic memory lane early childhood experiences.
Those were the days when normally the birth of a baby used to take place in the maternal grandmother’s house and generally in a remote village or a small town. Hospital deliveries were almost unknown or less known and almost all births happened at home only. Mostly the houses used to be tiled or small bungalows. In case of Dr Ranga Rao, a born blind attendant known as ‘Dai’ (Mantrasani or midwife) who also delivered his mother, delivered him too. She was credited with a record of not having lost a baby or mother in all the deliveries she conducted, running into hundreds and above. Seldom there used to be deaths of either mother or child (neither maternal mortality nor infant mortality) during delivery then.
Mothers had no modern antenatal or postnatal care. Neither mother nor child were immunized against tetanus. Pregnant women did not receive any iron supplementation. They were simply taken to her parents’ house couple of months before expected date of delivery and were made comfortable with a lot of rest and affection. After delivery the cord was cut with a sickle and the newborn was put in a basket. The placenta was buried. Then the newborn baby was given a wash and breast-fed. None was allowed into the room or allowed to touch mother and child for twelve days, unlike the present-day labor cum delivery rooms and as in abroad the practice of anyone with the permission of pregnant woman allowed at the time of delivery. The birth attendant collected the soiled clothes and owned them as her right traditionally. She was paid remuneration in the form of adequate grain.
Mothers were given a hot water bath boiled with herbal leaves, known as Vavilaku, on the third day and continued to receive her daily baths in similar fashion for nine more days and on twelfth day would have an extended duration bath with turmeric paste etc. A ritual was performed and a special rice dish, Pulagam or mix of Rice and Jaggery was cooked and eaten after which she was free to move in the house and mix with people. Baby too was given daily baths by elders or the birth attendant. They used to spread a cloth under the bottom of child and remove once it was soiled and wash and dry and reuse it. On the twenty first day of birth, the baby was given a name and was also formally put in a cradle in a simple ceremony attended by near and dear. There were no readymade wooden or other expensive cradles. Child was made to sleep in the cloth cradle tied to the roof beam and someone would go on swinging it.
During infancy, those days, children were not given any vaccination. They were breast-fed till next child was born or as long as mother could afford to give. When the child attained the age of six months six days, on an auspicious day, the first ever semi-solid weaning supplementary feed was given normally in a temple, in a formal but simple ceremony known as Annaprasan. It was rice boiled with Jaggery (Payasam). Similarly, When the child attained the age of one year (failing which three years) first hair-cut in a ceremony again in a temple was done. With either family members or attendants taking care of the child, round the clock, the child was never left alone out of sight. Almost every month child’s growth was marked by ceremonies and the milestones of development were monitored.
An interesting first memory Dr Ranga Rao could recall from his remotest past, when he was six-year-old, was sitting in the lap of his maternal grandfather (that was the way of life then) and looking at the coal fire on which he was making his early morning coffee. Like many in those days, his grandfather too had the habit of roasting the coffee beans and grinding them and brewing the coffee at very early morning (5 AM) every day. This was followed by having a smoke with his ‘Beedi’. Unlike the present-day instant coffee, the habit then was making it in a lengthy process. The smell of the roasted coffee beans, the whizzing sound of the manual grinder, the swirling smoke of Beedi and red ambers of the fire wood were the associated memories of Dr Ranga Rao or probably many a child of those days.
Monthly administration of castor oil to the children was an accepted practice. The child was wrapped and held on the outstretched lower limbs of elder and mouth was forcibly opened, and an ounce of castor oil administered. This was supposed to cleanse the bowel of the child. In the later days either ‘Gripe Water’ or ‘Vamu Water’ were given. Gripe water is a non-prescription product invented in 1851 by William Woodward, an English pharmacist. It was sold in many countries around the world to relieve colic and other gastrointestinal ailments and discomforts of infants. In India it was called ‘Woodward's Gripe Water.’ Vamu Water was Ajwain water or Carom seed.
As the child was growing, the morning breakfast in many houses in those days, often having ten or more children, was the grandmothers feeding with the leftover cooked rice from the previous evening mixed with a mango pickle popularly known as ‘Aavakaya’ and fresh curds. The children used to assemble after their morning calls and the mixed rice was distributed by the grandmother or an elderly person, a morsel each till their bellies were full. Separate plates were hardly used.
The houses in the villages like the one of Dr Ranga Rao’s maternal parents, were normally having lot of open space. Most of the time children used to spend there playing, or underneath the trees conversing. All children used to have two daily baths and mostly it was with cold water drawn from the well by an employee known as ‘Paleru’. The bath water used to irrigate banana trees and other vegetable garden. The nearby fields were used for open defecation except for emergency or for night needs for which there used to be an enclosed place meant for it.
Mostly children used to sleep in the open court yard, open to sky, singing and playing in the moon light which was the most pleasant experience. When the schooling started, they were put in the village school, normally a thatched shed with just a single teacher where the mother tongue was Telugu. Children were taught Telugu alphabets and mostly it was memorizing. There were no benches or chairs to sit and children used to squat on the floor and in the sand.
Affliction with Scabies a skin disease was a common problem in children for which the treatment that was administered was application of cow dung over the blisters and sores and sometimes ‘Cybol’, a commercially available ointment, packed in a cute little flat tin box. Children used to get relief after some days, from the affliction. Developing boils, mostly in summers, because of excessive sweat was another health issue. A paste of lime and water used to be applied over the boils thickly after hot fermentation. In few days the boil used to soften and subside or burst expelling pus.
When child developed fever, he or she had to fast and was deprived of routine foods like rice, dal etc. but were given mostly fluids like milk, gruel, buns etc. A fakir dressed in black, carrying a bunch of peacock feathers and earthen pot, emanating incense smoke, used to visit homes, and elders used to seek cures from him for chronic illnesses of the children. For whooping cough, the prescription used to be herbal twig coated with turmeric paste to be worn round the neck. If illness appeared to be serious the mother or some of the loving elders used to take vows. The scorpion and snakebites were treated with ‘Mantra’.
‘None of us the children were treated during that period for any illness by a qualified doctor. None of us remember to have swallowed a pill or tablet or medicine or received injection’ confidently wrote Dr AP Ranga Rao in his book ‘Hopping Memories’. The book has many more such anecdotes.
(The writer is Chief Public Relations Officer to Chief Minister, Telangana)
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