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A Doc from Jungles

For those who conjure up images of weird witch-doctors, here is a revelation : Tribal Chief P. Sahadeva Raju who is here with ten tribals, is a tribal in his looks but more modern in his views than many others wearing trousers and shirts. A brief-case he carries has testimonials from high and mighty from all over the country, his photographs with several VIPs and newspaper cuttings about him, all neatly preserved in transparent plastic folders.

He does wear a dhoti and often has only a red cloth on his shoulders covering his torso and rarely a shirt. "Gone are the days when we used to come with full tribal regalia including several necklaces of coloured beads and headgear with horns. Those things are now reserved for festive occasions. With greater exposure to city life, we don't dress like that anymore," he says in his fluent Telugu and a Hindi not too bad, given his background. " We have picked up Telugu and Hindi in cities, but back home in the jungles, we speak only tribal dialect which has no script," he adds.

His printed visiting card described him as a tribal chief of Gandasiri village near the temple town of Bhadrachalam in Khammam district of Andhra Pradesh, situated on the banks of Sabri, a tributary of the Godavari. Originally, he says, they hail from Bastar which was ruled by tribal king Praveer Chandra Bhanjdeo. The late D.P. Mishra's bid to dethrone the king and instal his brother Vijay Chandra Banjdeo resulted in violence in which the king was killed and there were clashes between police and the tribals. It was then that the clan shifted to Bhadrachalam jungles, adjacent to Bastar. Khammam, Bastar and parts of Orissa are contiguous and constitute a single tribal belt with common culture and dialects understood by each other.

Sahadeva Raju, like many other tribals straying into big cities, does tell one's past and predict future, but insists fortune-telling is not his interest and that he would do this only for a few he likes. "I do not know astrology or palmistry. I tell only by intruition given by Goddess Danteshwari, our tribal deity," he says.

Tribal chief P.Sahadeva Raju

Most tribals, he says, know leaves and herbs with which they meet medical emergencies. Some like him, who show necessary interest and intelligence, are taken around by tribal elders into the deep woods and taught the medicinal properties of a large number of plants, leaves, barks and roots and told how to prepare powders and tablets using them.

"It is all here in the brain, "he says with a gesture, "as no books are available". But he is confident that some of the 34 tribal boys whom his clan has sent to colleges in Visakhapatinam and other towns to study Ayurveda, will come back and write books, relating what they had learnt with the practical experience of their elders. Then, he says, they would set up a factory for herbal medicines at Gandasiri, for which land has already been earmarked.

Do they grow herbs for the medicines? There is no need, Sahadeva Raju says, as there were herbs growing in abundance in the jungles. "And they are naturally grown too...without using chemical fertilisers and harmful insecticides which reduce the effectiveness of the herbs by at least 25 percent, "he says, adding that many of the modern ailments come from residues of pesticides and food grown with fertilisers. "Except cancer, terminal TB, polio and such serious ailments, we can cure almost all diseases, including Diabetes, Rheumatic Pain, Piles, Jaundice, Asthma and Gas trouble", he claims.

Planning a six-month stay in Nagpur at the tents pitched next to Gokul building at Raghuji Nagar, not far from the Government Medical College, Sahadeva Raju, assisted by Laxmana Raju, Sanjeeva Raju and others says that herbal medicines, unlike "English" (Allopathic) drugs, are patient specific. That means he would have to examine the patient, feel his pulse and prepare the medicine to suit individual requirements. For this, he sees patients who come to his tent from 8 to 10 in the morning and till 8 in the evening. The rest of the time they prepare the medicines, but when a patient is too old or too ill to come Sahadeva Raju is ready to be taken to ailing person.

He has not been taking money for the most of the medicines he has been dispensing, except when he has to buy the herbs locally. "My mission is to cure people and popularise herbal medicine, so that when our factory starts, there would be acceptance for our medicines", he says.

The Hitavada,Wednesday, March 24, 1993