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My aunt the doctor

By Paul Mathias (July 2009)

“George! Otty!” declared Aunt Bullu as she and Uncle Tex marched into 14 Rest House Crescent one Saturday morning when I was about 12 years old, “Paul has jaundice.” “I feel fine,” I protested. “Yes, he does not seem to be ill,” agreed mummy. “Come here,” she called me. She gently pulled down my lower left eye lid with her right index finger and asked mummy and daddy to observe the tell-tale yellow stains. “Please take him to a doctor right away,” my aunt the doctor commanded. Of course her diagnosis was correct.

Aunt Bullu and Uncle Tex came to visit me when I was recuperating, and brought me a shiny red cricket ball. Excellent therapy! I was determined to recover and get back to the evening sports; but play was only permitted after I finished my homework, I was reminded.

Aunt Bullu and Uncle Tex were always so generous. I remember a couple of occasions when they happened to be in Bangalore for my birthday, and slipped a crisp two-rupee note into my hand. What a bonanza! That princely sum would buy a lot of ice candy, polymango and bubble gum. In my youthful reasoning, I thought it was a bit unfair that they were not in Bangalore for all my birthdays.

The family approach to medical treatment followed the WWABD (What would Aunty Bullu do?) model. Her emphasis was on healthy practices, proper diagnosis and minimalist medical intervention. I still remember some of Aunty Bullu’s practical recommendations on healthy eating. Always leave the table feeling like you can eat another meal. You should skip one meal each week. I try to follow her advice, but it seems that I have to have an extra drink on Sunday evenings to stave off the hunger pangs.

I feel that we honed our social skills through the visits that were forced on us as children, and that we grew to appreciate and enjoy as adults. It was a special joy to visit Aunt Bullu and Uncle Tex. On a trip to Bangalore when our girls were little, Ava and I informed them we would be visiting Oorgaum House that morning. “Oh goody!” said Tash, then about five or seven, “Will we visit that fun aunty and uncle with the dogs?” The visits usually took a familiar and comforting pattern. We would hear stories of the travels in their early years. We would get the garden tour to examine a special new flowering plant they had recently acquired. The dogs had picked up a cute new habit. Aunty Bullu would show us her paintings; we are fortunate to own one, a vase of colorful flowers. Uncle Tex would offer me a glass of beer. “But uncle, it is only eleven.” “Come on, you’re on vacation.” “Sure, twist my arm.”

I loved the harmony in the telling of the Bullu-Tex stories, with the alternating statements and invariably one finishing the other’s sentences. Once, Aunty Bullu fell off the bed and Uncle Tex called out: “Bullu, where are you?” “You pushed me off the bed, you fool,” she apparently responded from the floor. Then she turned to us and explained with a smile, “He’s such a sound sleeper, he doesn’t know what he is doing while asleep.” It struck me that an incident that would cause strife or at least significant irritation in other marriages was for them, this couple still in love, the source of a good story and a playful opportunity to strengthen their relationship.

Ava and I visited Aunty Bullu in October 2005, soon after Uncle Tex had passed away. She was planning her move to Providence Nilaya. Uncle Tex and she had decided to spend their last years at this home, and she was determined to go through with the plan. As we all know, her health rapidly deteriorated, and she died a few months later.

But on that day in October 2005, Aunty Bullu was her vibrant self: a very health eighty-nine year old full of stories and good humor, and with her usual zest for life. It’s the way I remember her.