By Shonar Joshi
Good news for asthmatics. Help is at hand with the famed fish therapy of Hyderabad, capital of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Knowledge of this unique treatment has been zealously guarded by a Goud family of the city for over a century.
So when was the last time you had fish? I’m sure it wasn’t the kind I had. A two-inch murrel, wriggling between two fingers. My mouth, filled with a yellow herbal paste, opened wide. A hand pushes the squiggling fish straight between my upper and lower molars. No time to feel squeamish. The fish is punched as far back as possible down the gullet, free to swim around in your body. Jaws are clamped shut and the back thumped. The murrel now races towards its destination. What I am talking about is the famous Bathini fish medicine, available in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad. The therapy is conducted every year on the auspicious Mrigashira Karthi day of the Hindus, which falls between June 6-8. The takers are asthmatics-young, old, toddlers and invalids.
Started by the Bathini Goud family, the therapy has been a secret for the past 156 years. It was given to Veeranna Goud, a toddy vendor, over a century back by a holy man who instructed him to give this free to everybody suffering from asthma. The holy man also blessed a well in the place where the medicine is administered – Doodhbowli, a mile or so away from the historic monument of Charminar in Hyderabad. Only the Goud family knows what goes in the herbal paste. The blessed well in their compound provides water for the mixing of the medicine. At present, three Goud brothers carry out the treatment, strictly in accordance with the practice of their ancestors. Even today, they don’t charge or accept any money for the medicine. Instead, they pay for all the expenses from their own pocket.
There is now an abundance of volunteers in the family who have mastered the technique of administering live fish into the mouths of fearful patients. Die-hard vegetarians can swallow bananas with the paste instead, but the Gouds emphasize the importance of fish. As the fish moves down the windpipe, it opens pores blocked by phlegm, thus making way for the herbal paste. The procedure is simple. Once the patient has swallowed the live fish, three doses of extra medicine is provided, to be taken on three successive auspicious days – Arudra Karthi, Punarvasu Karthi and Pushyami Karthi, which fall every 15 days in a regulated span of 45 days. Apart from this, the patient has to be under strict diet control for 45 days. The diet is probably harder to swallow than the live fish. You literally have to practice being a martinet. With only a handful of edibles allowed, patients labor through rigorous self-control, abstaining from everything except the food items prescribed. Says Harinath Goud, one of the three Goud brothers: ‘Unless you strictly adhere to the diet, the effect of the medicine will not be optimum.’ Besides, what is a period of a month and a half when weighed against a life of breathless struggle? Every fortnight, morning and evening, two pills made out of the paste are taken without fail with warm water. The reason for the fortnightly gap is as much of a secret as the medicine, yet it is religiously marked on every patient’s calendar. Life resumes normalcy on the 46th day. But cured? Well, this is no one-time miracle. The Gouds state categorically that the fish medicine has to be taken for three consecutive years. Says Sheela Chakravorty, a patient: ‘The first time I took the fish, it was hard to follow the diet. I was tempted to eat, not delicacies, but simple things such as eggs and coffee, and maybe use a few spices that weren’t allowed. The next year, I was more relaxed and took it upon myself to follow it through. And I did. Today, I am 75 per cent cured.’
There are many such people who have struggled on the difficult path of fish therapy and succeeded. Most notice an improvement in the first year itself. But there’s no fixed pattern to the treatment. There are also some who feel no change. The reasons are plenty-perhaps the diet was not followed properly or the asthma had gone far beyond mortal help. Yet asthmatics from all over the country-and abroad – converge at Hyderabad on the specified day to try out this ‘wonder-therapy’. Skeptical doctors, many of whom hail from the allopathic school of medicine, label the treatment illogical. Some claim it to be nothing more than faith healing, where the psychological state of the patient compels him to believe he can be, and is being, cured. After all, a man who can’t breathe is quite desperate.
Others say the medicine has small quantities of cortisone mixed in it, which gives relief from arduous breathing. But this has been proven wrong as the medicine has been checked and certified by pharmaceutical authorities in India as a purely herbal and ayurvedic cure. Further, doctors who are more open to the idea of age-old remedies and alternative therapies accept that, no matter how skeptical you may be, the cure of thousands of patients year after year is clear evidence of the therapy’s effectiveness. I can personally vouch for the efficacy of this treatment. A chronic asthmatic, after taking the fish medicine I was not as sick even in the dreaded month of July as I had been all these past years. A break in the wheezing pattern that my lungs have followed for the past 25 years cannot be written off as coincidental. I rather look on it as a miracle of God and Goud alike.
As a direct consequence of the fish therapy’s popularity, different organizations have begun promoting similar cures in other parts of India under the banner of ‘Fish Medicine from Hyderabad’. Everything is the same—the date, the yellow paste-like-medicine and the fish. ‘But,’ says Harinath Goud, ‘there is nothing in common between them and us. We don’t divulge the secret ingredients of the medicine and hence it is impossible for these cloning organizations to know what goes into it.’ Skepticism and plagiarism notwithstanding, every year in Hyderabad you see a motley crowd: the timorous, the confident and the curious, standing in long serpentine queues before the blessed compound of the Gouds. While some of them may lose interest in the cure and not come again, others will simply thank the Lord, mark the calendar for the following year, and go again for the big gulp!
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