The Subansiri river, a tributary of the Brahmaputra, that courses through Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, and Tibet has a rare connection with a small village in Kerala's Idukki district.
Just like the river, the Subansiri Clinic at Parathode, near Adimali, in Idukki was a lifeline for the local people.
People in rural areas of Panikkankudy, Parathode, and Kambilikandam are mourning the untimely death of Dr Nanak Murtem, 44, owner and medical practitioner at the Subansiri clinic at Parathode.
Braving the odds thrown by the COVID-19 pandemic, several people thronged the condolence meeting held in front of Subansiri clinic on Thursday in memory of Dr Murtem, who died recently at his hometown in Arunachal Pradesh following a brief battle with cancer.
After understanding the critical nature of his illness, Dr Murtem had left Parathode around four months ago. The doctor but kept in touch with local people through WhatsApp.
When Dr Murtem shifted from Kambilikandam to Parathode to start a clinic around 12 years ago, people were in desperate need for a hospital. Dr Murtem had won everyone's heart with his personal connection with local people. He usually charged a nominal consultation fee. He was also known for his right diagnosis and people completely trusted him as one who would not lead them up the path of unwanted medical tests.
Skills at play
"Usually, he would refer serious cases to major hospitals without wasting any time. His real talent was seen during the recent floods when life was thrown out of gear due to landslips. He single-handedly managed even critical cases at his clinic during that time," recollected Deepak Joseph, an engineer hailing from Parathode.
Dr Murtem, who reached Kerala in the mid-2000s to pursue MBBS at the Government Medical College, Kottayam, worked in various hospitals in Idukki before finally settling down at Parathode.
Dr Murtem's wife, Damini Murtem, said Idukki was their preferred location as the weather and terrain were similar to their homeland Arunachal Pradesh. "The high ranges and cool climate are similar to Arunchal. So, he worked in various hospitals in Idukki before starting a clinic at Parathode. We had plans to buy land and settle here. We dropped that plan after he was diagnosed with cancer. Still, he wanted us to stay here considering the future of our children, who study here in Classes X and VIII. As per his wish, we have appointed a doctor so that the Subansiri clinic continues to function," said Damini. She said Dr Murtem's house in Arunachal was situated in a remote location, where electricity connection or piped water are still not available.
Damini said Dr Murtem learnt Malayalam during his MBBS days. "He improved his language by talking to his patients in Malayalam," she said.
"Like any person, he wished to go back to his roots and left for Arunachal during his last days," said Damini. Damini's family is from Nepal which subsequently settled down in Chengamanad.
Genius Mathew, who was his neighbour at Parathode, said that Dr Murtem's ability to suture and cure sharp cuts made him instantly popular. "Being farmers, most people approached him with cuts and bruises and he was an expert in suturing. He would often do it himself and won't pass it on to nurses. A visit to private hospitals in Adimali or Kozhenchery would cost them much. Dr Murtem only took a nominal fee at his clinic," Genius said.
A 'warm' doctor
The warmth of his nature, fluent Malayalam, and, above all, his love for farming made it easy for Dr Murtem to win the hearts of local people in Idukki. He set apart some time from his hectic schedule for farming on the 40 cents of land near his clinic. He also loved travelling and used to drive to Arunachal Pradesh.
IT professional Priyan John said the doctor was always available for house visits for bed-ridden patients. "He had a unique style of interacting with patients; he asked about the well-being of other family members too. He was never intimidating. Before starting his clinic at Parathode, he worked at Kambilikandam, around 10 km away. When the clinic started, people in Kambilikandam and nearby areas would come to Parathode," Priyan said.
Love for Parathode
Dr Murtem's love for Parathode was evident even during his final rites. Fr Jose Chittadi, who previously served at the Parathode church and is now in Arunachal, conducted the final prayers during the funeral, as per the wish of the doctor.
The Subansiri clinic, like the river in Arunachal, will keep flowing for a long time bearing the name of Dr Murtem.
(Jisha Surya is an independent journalist based in Thiruvananthapuram. Read her past works for Onmanorama here.)