April 25, 2018
My Republica (http://www.myrepublica.com/news/40504/)
We should broaden our minds to alternative concepts of disease
and healing, not rely exclusively on big pharmacological solutions
A few days ago, The Guardian ran an article about Prince Charles and
his belief in homeopathy. The writer expressed scorn at the Prince’s
beliefs in homeopathy. The tone of the article struck me with its
scientific smugness and condescension—an attitude which has been very
effective in blocking inquiry into broader conceptions of disease and
healing. In this op-ed, I want to share my own experience with
homeopathy. I was also healed by a homeopathic doctor—rather to my
surprise. I share the story with you so you can make up your mind about
the intangibles that make up the process of healing.
In 2007, I attended the Berlinale Film Festival. I was part of a
contingent of filmmakers which had been accepted to the Talent Campus.
The campus aimed to bring together young filmmakers and provide them
with access to mentors from different cinematic disciplines. We saw Gael
Garcia Bernal, Frederick Wiseman and Wim Wenders. We heard the composer
who’d done the music for Peter Pan, and the cinematographer of Red,
Blue and White. The time I spent in Berlin was fun, and took my mind away somewhat
from an incomprehensible accident that had killed a close friend of mine
from college on New Year’s Eve.
On the way back from Berlin, I stopped over at Thailand for one
night. I paid $30 to spend one night in a room that felt like an
enclosed box. It was hot and stifling, and I seem to have caught dry
cold there. On return to Kathmandu, I came down with severe fever, cough
and cold. When I recovered, I could hear a wheezing deep inside my
throat and lungs that didn’t seem to go away. The asthma may have been
triggered by the extreme cold of Berlin, transition to abrupt tropical
heat of Bangkok, then back to a colder Kathmandu. Underlying it all was
the loss caused by my friend’s death. I could hear a rattle in the
throat that was so loud it woke me at night.
Running into a healer
I talked to my doctor, who prescribed an inhaler. The spray of
chemicals in my system made me feel worse. I felt a sense of despair at
the thought I would be forever dependent on this medication. During
college, I had a friend who also had childhood asthma, and who had
overcome it as an adult, so I knew asthma was not a lifelong affliction.
It appeared to me there was a cure. But where was it?
Then I ran into a German musician who lived in Bhaktapur. Gert Wegner
was known to me through two of my friends. Sarina Rai, the most
well-known punk rocker of Nepal, had started her musical career by
taking guitar and drum lessons at the Bhaktapur School of Music, which
had been started by Gert.
On one memorable occasion, Sara Shneiderman, a friend who was then
managing a study-abroad program for American students, had invited me
for a program at the Bhaktapur School of Music, and I had seen Gert in
his element, in an old garden with wooden pavilions, encouraging girls
to take up the big dhimmay baja drums, which traditionally were only
played by men. So I knew Gert to be a kind, capable and thoughtful man,
who had not just started an institution of great repute, but was also
well-respected in Newari community where he lived.
Bhaktapur retains its medieval culture, and Gert was discreetly
embedded in this town. His home was an old crumbling Newari home that
looks like any other house from the outside. During one festival at
Dashain, I learnt that Gert had been given the status of an elder,
respected guru by the community of butchers he’d worked with for many
years, and that he was in charge of leading a team of musicians to honor
Nasa Deo. During that Dashain, we watched as team after team of highly
drunk, out-of-tune, rollicking musicians went past—following by the
ramrod straight, disciplined military march of Gert’s men, all playing
their music in harmony. Needless to say, they won the competition that
I can’t remember how or when I ran into Gert again in 2007, but
sometimes during these asthmatic days, I happened to visit Bhaktapur,
and I ran into Gert at the yogurt shop. As to how I told him I had
asthma I don’t remember, but I wasn’t feeling good, and if he asked me
how I was, perhaps I mentioned the asthma to him. Then, perhaps in that
same conversation, or perhaps in another, he mentioned, in an off-hand
manner, that he too knew homeopathy. I was curious now, and requested
him for a diagnosis. He agreed.
That same day, I walked with him through winding lanes and a little
garden with flowers to the entrance of his old interconnected house.
This is the kind of strange thing that looking back Hindus call
“karma”—Gert is someone I have met perhaps five times in 10 years, but
that moment, when I was most in need of a cure, I happened to run into
Gert had rented one of the floors of this old house. It still had its
mud floor and walls, and on the floor on a straw mat I could see his
tablas. We went up to his beautiful kitchen, and he offered me some tea.
I admired the old kitchen utensils that he had placed around as objects
of decoration. We had a nice conversation as he told me about his
teaching at the Free University of Berlin. He explained to me he himself
was not trained as a homeopathic doctor, but his former wife had been,
and she had been the one to teach him.
After I’d drunk the tea, we went down again into another room. This
had a cabinet full of small vial-like bottles, with the small white
homeopathic medicine in them. They were all neatly labeled. I wanted to
go closer and look, but didn’t want to appear too inquisitive, lest he
think I was being invasive. I got the sense he didn’t want me to go too
close to those neat bottles. I sat and watched him as he opened some big
books, and started to read them.
Then he took up a little metal instrument which was like a little
metal pendulum. He swung this back and forth a few times, looking very
intent. It looked like he was testing something, perhaps the magnetic
direction of the poles—or perhaps the energy my body was putting out in
the room. This looked like some wacky, New Age cure—not at all the
rational, Germanic pharmaceutical solution I thought I was getting. I
thought about Ouija boards. I felt an urge to laugh. But because he was
an elder man who clearly had earned his respect, I maintained my
composure. I sat there, curious but willing to see what he had to say.
“Do you feel the sorrows of other people deeply?”
Rather surprised, I said that indeed I did feel the sorrows of other
people deeply. He rifled the pages of his big encyclopedia-like book
again, searching for something. Looking at the book, he asked me a few
other questions that seem to me to be equally out of range of what a
doctor asks a patient who has just told you they need a cure for asthma.
It appeared he was trying to place me into a certain category. I felt
slightly discomfited, wondering what that category was.
Then he said: “I think you are a causticum type. I am fairly certain you are a causticum type.”
He then rifled around in his closets till he found a small bottle. He
put a tiny white ball in a small piece of paper. “All you need is one,”
he said. I must have looked disappointed to see the tiny white ball.
After the long process of diagnosis, the medication appeared incredibly
small and token. Seeing the look in my face, he said: “But I will give
you three, just in case you need it.”
I was grateful for this medicine, and eager to try it out. That
night, I took one pill of causticum. The white sugar taste vanished on
the tip of my tongue.
The next day, my asthma, which had been troubling me for a few
months, vanished. And it did not return. This was too good to be true.
Just to be sure, I took the other two white sugar pills as well, even
though I didn’t need it.
I have no idea how, or why. I have no idea why irradiating my throat
with a broth of pharmaceutical chemicals didn’t help, and why a tiny
white sugar pill did. That’s the mystery of healing. You can’t tell me I
didn’t have asthma, because I know I did, and I was suffering from it.
Perhaps it was the presence of this elder man who exuded an aura of wise
healer energy. Perhaps it was his old adobe house, full of objects that
seem to exude magical power. Perhaps it was the time and place of
Bhaktapur, and the episodes of music. All I know is that homeopathy
worked for me, and I was grateful towards it.
Healing is a magical act, in many ways. Germ theory may explain one
part of disease and healing, but it doesn’t explain everything. It
doesn’t explain how our body is connected to our mind. Which is why
homeopathy, and other systems like it, find increasing adherents all
over the world.
This story is not aimed to make you “believe” in homeopathy. This
story is only aimed to make you take a closer look at what makes people
ill, and what heals them again. This story is also aimed at those
policymakers who design healthcare programs in which pharmaceutical
companies are given great importance, but who ignore alternative systems
of healing. The Nepali Times recently ran an article claiming one-third
of Nepalis suffer from mental health disorders.
Many people’s anxiety and depression have been exacerbated by the
earthquake, amongst other reasons. In a world with these many people
affected by mental health disorders, we should broaden our minds to
alternative concepts of disease and healing, and not just rely
exclusively on big pharmacological solutions.
Sushma Joshi is a writer and filmmaker from Kathmandu, Nepal
(You can also find an older version of this article posted in my blog.)