The quick-fixers

The quick-fixers

A proverb, in most languages, indicates loss of honour or pride when a ‘nose gets cut’, but is it really so? There are instances right from 1790s in India when a cut nose/limb was replaced, thereby restoring honour.

Recently, I read extracts from a book which says that during the Anglo-Mysore War of 1792, Cowasjee, a Parsi bullock cart driver of the English Army was taken PoW by Tipu Sultan who ordered amputation of his nose and a hand. Years later, a Maratha potter who saw the invalidated pensioner, gave him a new nose by skin-grafting which was witnessed by two English physicians and reported in The Madras Gazette of August 4, 1794. The report contained Cowasjee’s full page portrait after the operation.

That reminded me of a story I had heard when young. Almost a century ago, in a village near Tinnevelly (Tirunelveli), a loaded bullock cart ran over the foot of a villager. Carts then had wooden wheels with iron cladding. The bones broke into large number of pieces but the skin was almost intact.

He was taken to the Government District Hospital at Tinnevelly, where the English surgeon opined that amputation was necessary as the bones were broken beyond repair. The family did not agree and took him to a renowned ‘Puttur bone-fixer’. He placed the injured leg on a flat piece of wood and slowly fixed the bone pieces to their places one by one, by feeling with his fingers. He then wrapped the foot in a cloth and poured some medicinal oil over it. He told the man to keep pouring oil so that the wound does
not dry. His leg was OK in due course!

After the leg became functional, the man went and showed it to the surgeon who had recommended amputation; he now wanted to meet the bone-fixer and was so impressed that he arranged for him a free railway pass to travel throughout the district for bone-fixing.

In 1974 in Calcutta, my brother-in-law fell from the staircase and sustained a fracture. A surgeon treated him at home and asked my nephew to come to the clinic every few days and report his progress. During one such visit, my nephew met a man whose foot had been mangled in a motor accident. When the X-ray was taken, the surgeon felt that the fracture was too complicated for a plaster and advised the man to first go to the ‘bone- setter’ in Harrington street.

The bone-setter manoeuvred the bones and almost nearly shaped the foot back. An X-ray now showed the bones had been placed right and so the surgeon did a plaster! That bone-setter charged just Re 1 or Rs 2 to be placed in a hundi for donating to the temple.