from a letter home from chennai in 2008, when i was there studying diabetes. drs. s & b, i hope it is OK to include this photograph!
To help add context to my research, I have undertaken a series of interviews with doctors and dieticians at the hospital to see how “biomedicine” in India “talks” about diabetes. I have also interviewed five Ayurvedic practitioners on the same. While four easily obliged to doing a one-hour interview on the topic, Dr. S, an 85-year-old practitioner declared that we could not begin with the diseased state, but had to begin at the beginning of Ayurveda. Thus began some two weeks of early morning classes on Ayurveda by Dr. S and his son. Dr. S is much aggrieved that the world does not know Sanskrit, and therefore cannot read and interpret the Ayurvedic texts for themselves to apply them to all aspects of living and research, which they would surely enhance.
Thus, every class includes at least one promise that I will learn Sanskrit (he swears I can do this quickly, which is how I have ended up buying three old (heavy!) ayurvedic textbooks). The class also usually includes Dr. B (his son) reading in Sanskrit (Dr. S is nearly blind) from the texts, Dr. S interrupting when he remembers the verse to finish it off, and then usually his chiding his son on the fact that his Sanskrit is not up to snuff.
One discussion centered on the separation of the body, mind, sense and soul, the body primarily being a vehicle for the soul, the essence of the individual. (After this class, I learned to begin our conversations not with “how are you?” but rather “how is the body?”). Anyway, during this discussion, presumably to help illustrate the point, he said: You see, the soul is youthful, the soul is bubbling over with Ayurveda…but THE BODY is fatigued and THE BODY is SWEATING.” By this point, he had risen out of his chair and removing his two shirts to relieve the sweating. To prove his state, I was asked to both examine the shirts for their wetness and to feel them, in case one sensory experience was inadequate.
Then, addressing an invisible audience, he continued, pointing emphatically at his collarbone: THE COLLARBONE is DISlocated because THE BODY has fallen three times in the bathroom since January.
Since then, I have learned many things about his bodily state that I would have just as soon not know. For example, he has a catch in the lower back due to an excess of wind cause by eating too many fried foods. He also, at 75, suffered from weak urine flow, which he corrected through self-manipulation of the prostate…