Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Hakim Saheb Shafakhana

This will probably be my last post on this blog unless I manage to find the energy to write about many other places I have been to but never got down to writing about. On 14th February, I leave Delhi, travel around South India for 2 weeks, then may go back to the mountains for a month. Thanks to everyone who has been reading this blog and giving their feedback, it has made each entry more than worthwhile and my travels have been enriched by sharing with you.

I had a long standing desire to go to a Unani Hakeem and be told, after reading my pulse, that I was the fittest man ever to have walked the face of the earth. In the absence of any parameters to find the real gold in a pile of crap, we had no option but to try our luck. So, yesterday, 09 Feb 2011, a friend, Johnny and I decided to walk into one of the more prominently visible dawakhanas in Old Delhi. It was near Golcha Cinema in Daryaganj. We had been forewarned to expect some sort of questions about our sexuality etc. As a disconnected observation, I have seen many a medicine practice fall prey to the easy money making route of preying on the psychology of men/women who want an offspring but do not have one. So Unani having gone that way was not surprising. From a time in the 14th century Delhi, when Feroz Shah Tughlaq had erected an entire medresse next to the Hauz Khas tank for students to study this branch of medicine to today, when every street in Old Delhi can boast of a fake pulse doctor, Unani's decline has been slow but sure and steady.

So, as we located the board of the dawakhana, known as Hakim Saheb Shafakhana, the first thing that drew our attention was the text at the bottom. It was a painted metal board with the torso of a middle aged man with a round face. He had headgear with a long protrusion skywards. Intentional or not but the 'protrusion' was eerily similar to a penis. At the bottom, in large bold font, 'SEXOLOGIST'.

A man was standing next to a staircase which led up. As we climbed up the stairs, Johnny and I discussed our strategy. We would go in together and Johnny would start with talking about his throat and knee. Depending on how the conversation went, I would either talk about some genuine issues (which I did not have) or cook up something. On the second floor, after passing a small gallery looking down upon the main street, we entered a room. This was already impressive. There was a reception and a receptionist. The room was not badly furnished either. Having seen 'SEXOLOGIST', I had anticipated a dinghy, ill lit, single room 'facility'. Instead, a well groomed man, presumably a patient was seated on a sofa and the receptionist was behind a table. Another man was standing beside the receptionist. One by one, we spelled out our names. After that I added:

'We want to go in together.'

'Together!!', the standing man asked in hushed tones, almost surprised.

'Yes', I replied.

He tilted his head a little, winked at me, smiled a bit and said 'Ok.'

After waiting for sometime at the sofa, we were sent to an adjoining room. A very small room, small enough to just hold a chair, a table and 2 chairs across the table. When the door was opened, it would almost brush one of the chairs. One by one, we walked in and said Hello. On the other side of the table was seated an old, short, pudgy, triple chinned, paunched, bald man wearing a suit. He had obviously shaved his head but left a tail at the back. I pushed one of the chairs further up to walk behind it to the second one when I was suddenly interrupted:

'No, no, no. Not from the back!! From the front!' Neither of us understood what it meant. As we exchanged puzzled looks, his eye fell on the bag I was trying to place behind one of the chairs.

'What is that?' he asked

'A bag.'

'What is a bag doing here?'

'It is my bag, so I am carrying it.'

'But what is it doing here?'

'It is being placed on the floor.'

'What is in it?'

'A camera.'

'How did the camera come in here?'

Then he called one of his orderlies and said

'How did these kids get the camera in here?'

So, obidiently, we walked out one by one with our bags and cameras and placed them back in reception room. After entering the room again, the 'No, no, no, not from the back' business started again.

This time he also said, 'Men do not sit on the chairs from the back. They come from the front.' After we were seated, he gazed at both of us, asked us our names and then many other questions.

'How old are you?'

'28!? Are you married? Why not? When do you plan to?'

As I answered each question, he had huge, fat notebook open in front of him and he kept noting my response on it.

'Where are you from? You are sure you are from Himachal? Himachal is so big, how can you be from there? Where in Himachal?'

After asking similar questions of Johnny, who had some trouble asnwering some of them, he asked with a smile:

'Are you good friends?' I am not sure if the smile was naughty but I think it was.

'So, how do Shalabh and Johnny know each other?'

Before we could answer, I wanted to get to the point about our visit. Before I could get to the point, he started a monologue. I only remember some part of it, the rest, some very interesting has been forgotten

'By the grace of almighty god', he said, 'we are all here. By his grace, everything works. We eat so many kinds of food. All of it is broken down into 5-6 kinds of things. Then, everything is converted to semen. This is the reality of life. In life, it is very important. People do not want to acknowledge this. But we? We acknowledge this and we also say that if you do not satisfied with what we do to you, you go back and get money. Has any other business given you this expression, this bold expression? I tell you, noone can give this bold expression to you, no where in this city anywhere. It is difficult to get this expression.'

We nodded our heads at the 'bold expression' and he continued.

'You are young people, I can see that. You have lot of energies. You go to college and have many energies and not to know what to do with them. These are not diseases, these are weaknesses. They are only weaknesses and we can help you master these weaknesses. Only we make this bold expression. Now, there are 3 reasons for your weaknesses. Because you have many energies in college, you young boys do 3 things.

1. You do too much hand practice.
2. You do too much sex.
3. You have night ommissions.

Because of this, you lose your energies and then no energies are left. But not worry, you have come to us and we make bold expressions and take care of your weaknesses. You need 5 things

1. Patience
2. Determination
3. I forget the 3rd thing
4. I forget the 4th thing
5. Faith in almighty god'

A lot else went on. Some repetition, some unique phrases. I was wearing an innocent smile on my face, trying to keep from laughing. Johnny was in half a state of confusion and half a state of absolute mirth. Twice, I tried to interrupt and steer the conversation to Unani. Each time, I was told

'Beta, jab bade bolte hain to chhoton ko chup rehna chahiye.' ('Son, when an elder is speaking, the younger people should keep quiet.')

Eventually,we did get down to the question of what was wrong with Johnny and Shalabh.

'I have some pain in the inside of my knees and some pain in the throat.' said Johnny.

He waited with an expectant look in his eyes and kept looking at Johnny. The eyes seemed to say, 'And?'. A little later, getting no response from Johnny, the mouth said, 'What else?'

'Nothing', replied poor Johnny.

'Nothing?' he was surprised.

'Do you have girlfriend?' was the next question.


'How many?'

'Only one.'

Another pause, another look.

'How much money does she spend on you?' Johnny was stumped. So was I. After waiting a little, he said,

'Quite a lot.'

'And how much do you spend on her?'

'A lot!!'

'Then everything is all right.' Another small pause and 'Is there anything else wrong with you? Any pain anywhere else? Are you sure?'

Then it was my turn.

'I trekked for over a year, walked a lot, over boulders and hard surfaces. Now my knees hurt.' was my complaint.

'You also have knee problem.'

Several questions followed.

'Do you feel pain? Do you hear sounds when you walk? Sounds from the knee? How much does it hurt?'

All responses were diligently noted down, as were Johnny's. After what seemed like an age of noting down our responses, the diagnosis was handed out.

'Mr. Johnny, you have a problem of ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat)'

'Mr. Shalabh, you have a problem of orthopaedics. Mr. Johnny, you too.'

I almost felt like falling at his feet for revealing the secret of the elixir of life to me.

'Not to worry. Sex is not everything. Many problems are there. Not only sex. I can see you have a lot of heat in your eyes and your bodies. You are young people. Do you feel weak?'

We nodded our heads in a No.

'Do you have a good appetite?' Yes.

'This is only first consultation. We charge you Rs. 100 for this. If you want to talk about your problems, you can talk them, all kinds of problems. Not even those of knee or throat. We can do special consultation for you. It will cost Rs. 11000 and we can also do treatment. It will cost Rs. 35000. You have to choose according to your budget. We have treatment from Re.1 to Rs. 500,000. You have to choose according to your budget. So what is your choice?'

'Choices between what? What are the options?' asked confused Johnny.

'You have to choose. Choose according to your budget. We will make you walk, hear sounds in your knees, tell you how to walk, tell you food, listen to your throat.'

'Oh, so you will prescribe a diet?'

'Yes, like honey.' he said in a conspiratorial tone. 'I am not supposed to say this but I told you as an example. We will tel you honey. Money is not the issue. This is by the grace of god almighty. Only you have to do everything. We only do consultation, make you walk, hear sounds. Then you have to do everything and have faith in god almighty. Money is not the issue, we have many by the grace of god almighty. Only you should be happy about it. So, what is your choice?'

'Choices between what? What are the options?'

Repeat the above for sometime. After multiple assertions that a choice could only be made when one had 2 options, he decided to make two signs of blanks in the register in front of each of our names.

'So you have no choices. Thats ok. It is ok. You can get consulatation for Rs. 11,000. Normally it costs Rs. 1,00,000 but for you this is special rate. Money is not the issue, you should be happy. When we do consultation, it will take 4-6 months. How long will you be here, Mr. Johnny?'

'6 months' said Johnny.

'Thats good. Mr. Shalabh, you should show Mr. Johnny the mountains of Himachal. You are good friends.'

Over the next 5 minutes, we made multiple attempts at getting up from our chairs but were bogged down. Eventually, we were handed cards with our names on it, the dates of our visit and an R-5 on it. We are supposed to call back when we have made our choices.

'My assistants dont speak English. Call directly and tell me your choice. By the grace of god almighty.'

Suggestions from those who reach the end of this post are welcome.

The front of the card (in English)

The back of the card (in Hindi)


  1. Hilarious! :) ... I believe these are the people who advertise on walls everywhere with "gupt rog upchaar" and so on! ... cannot blame them too, there must be a high demand market for his "services".

  2. Must confess shalabh super hilarious !! The guy was hell bent on giving u a class on sexual problems..

  3. Fantastic Shalab! It took me some time to get to this blog but I'm so glad I did. Please don't stop writing.
    (P.S. I'm Purnima...we met at the Jaipur lit fest. I'm the one who talked to you about Karchham)

  4. @Varun - thanks, yes he was

    @Purnima - thanks for visiting the blog, glad you like it. I am not sure how much more will I write on this blog, I am already out of Delhi.

    We can maybe resume our discussion about Karchham and Himachal. :)