Practicing tradition

In the times when allopathy is the most preferred system of medicine in Kashmir, there are many who still practice traditional medicine. Aliya Bashir reports.

They claim to treat every disease but they are not trained or qualified doctors or even paramedics. They inherit the “knowledge” and most of the patient base from their forefathers. These medics, locally called Hakeems, usually practice medicine for generations.

The medicines they prescribe are made by them which consist of herbs and other ingredients, wrapped in paper or syrup blends in unbranded glass bottles, which do not give any details of its contents.

From Srinagar city to almost all towns and bigger villages such Hakims can be found operating from shops or even their homes.

Hakim Showkat Muhammad, 46, wears a gentle smile as he prepares medicines by mixing various herbs in his shop at Nowhatta in Srinagar city.

“I am very lucky that I am in a same profession in which my forefathers were. I am happy that I have been able to fulfil the dream of my ancestors of carrying forward this profession by which I can serve people,” beams Showkat.

He gets all kind of patients. “Each day, I attend to around 10 to 15 patients. Eighty percent of them comprise of women with different health problems, especially skin related diseases,” he says.

In Showkat’s family, his great grandfather, Hakim Abdul Rehman Raina started practicing Hikmat and the tradition has passed on since then. Showkat and all his four brothers are involved in the family business, who help him in collecting the herbs and preparing the medicines.

“The earnings from the trade, besides the satisfaction of helping patients give us pleasure and contentment,” says Showkat.

In a small dimly lit room at Saraibala Srinagar patients wait for their turn to consult Ghulam Rasool Hajam. Most of the patients were suffering from pustules or boils. Consulting hakeems and their medicines usually cost much less than allopathic treatment.

Hajam, who is in mid 70’s, has been in the profession for more than 45 years. He inherited the trade and the skill from his father, Ghulam Mohammad. Now his son is learning hikmat as his apprentice.

“My father would tell me that this skill is not gifted to everyone and very few people get chance to serve the humanity in real sense. I am on a mission of my father to cure different diseases with minimum use of medicines. My prayers are always filled with wishes for quick recovery of my patients,” says Rasool.

Even when most people prefer allopathic medicine there are many takers for the traditional system.

Muhammad Arif Baba, 50, runs his traditional medicine trade from a spacious second storey shop at Malarata in old city. Baba and his brother own a factory at Zakura on city outskirts, where medicines are produced from herbs.

Their father was a government officer. They got attracted to the profession through their maternal grandfather, Hakim Mohammad Kaloo of Paarniva, Budgam.

“In 1970’s he was very famous and would treat many patients free of cost,” Baba recalls.

However, his children are not interested in carrying on the profession.

Baba says that his son, who is an engineer, at times feels very low to see him working so hard with the dusty jute bags filled with different herbs.

“Our new generation is oriented towards more materialistic jobs as they feel this skill quite pitiful and cheap. So we don’t carry any expectation that they will continue this profession,” saya Baba with a sigh.

Baba, however, says that the demand for traditional medicine has risen over the years.
“Around 1980’s there were few companies like Hamdard, Himalaya and Zandu in the market with almost Rs 30 lakh of business in a year. At present, there are hundreds of companies whose turnover runs in crores,” he says.

Hakim Siraj-ud-din, 44, of Habba Kadal, Srinagar says he receives around 30 patients every day.

“All I can say is that with this skill I am only able to feed my family. But, we don’t lament the destiny. We are living happily by the grace of Almighty,” says Siraj-ud-din
Gulzar Ahmed, 65, a resident of Batamaloo had boils near his left eye. He says that infection was so severe that many renowned doctors has advised him to undergo surgery. After taking Siraj-ud-din’s prescribed medicine he recovered within a week.

“I was very tired after consulting many doctors of the valley who were adamant to get my eye operated. But, one of my friends suggested me to try our old time doctors (hakims) and luckily it worked,” Gulzar says.

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