I walked up the leafy driveway. Many of the trees sprouted books, as usual. Some had small book-buds on them. The centre of the garden had a small statue of Saraswati.
I rang the doorbell. The familiar name plate stared at me from the door with the inscription:
Dr. H.R. Guru; MPBS
He was no medical doctor; though I rather think he could be , if he tried. Or he doesn’t have to try. He could be one, anyway. I don’t know. He was rather mysterious.
All I knew was that he was an existential doctor. If you have any deep questions, you go to him. Or even if they are not so deep. Deep, means different things to different people. If you are deep, the questions may be really deep, like the Mariana trench. If you are shallow, the questions may be floating over murky waters like a dead fish, belly up.
Whatever your questions maybe, Dr. Guru had answers. Are the answers always true? I have no Idea. Sometimes they seem quirky, even convoluted, like a conspiracy theory. But one doesn’t question their Guru. That is the rule in Indian culture. Just listen to them. Then you can take it or leave it.
I have to tell you one thing though. The initials H.R stands for Horribly Realistic. He told me that himself, his mouth twisting into a horrible grin as he said it, as if relishing the word, live and squirming inside his mouth .The degree MPBS is ‘Minimum Possible Bull Shit’. A shitty degree, no doubt. But he had it. It was from some foreign University.
I had to ask him about the Diphtheria deaths. We had many in a particular district of Kerala. It was a recent development. Allegations were on that certain religious fundamentalist teachings were discouraging vaccinations in the area. It was difficult to understand. Why would they do it? What did they have against Modern Medicine?
One theory was that some believed that the vaccinations were an international conspiracy. Particularly promoted by America. The vaccinations were designed to bring down human fertility. That was the charge. If you had vaccinations, you will have difficulty having children. The population would plunge.
But I couldn’t believe it. I mean I couldn’t believe that anyone would believe it. Many of the masses may be gullible, but most of the really astute top brass in the religious propaganda machine couldn’t be that naive. But clearly, they saw a threat in vaccinations. Maybe they saw modern medicine in general as a hostile force. Quite puzzling, wasn’t it?
“Puzzling for you, not for me.” Said Dr. H.R.Guru. He smiled in an offensively benign manner. He also stroked his beard, as if it was a baby. The varying luxuriance of his facial growth was another peculiarity. On some days, it was just stubble. Today, it reached up to his waist, as thick and impenetrable as the Amazon rain forest. It was just a personal reminder of the impermanence of history, he had said on a previous occasion. Some things he said went straight over my head, like paper arrows thrown at your girlfriend from the backbench. They always miss.
“Anti-vaccine is not unique to any one religion. Look at neo-evangelical Christian groups of the United States of America. While some are quite liberal, some are against vaccinations, and a few are against modern medical treatment of any kind.”
This was more than slightly irritating.
“Why do you drag Christians into whatever you say about religion?” I challenged him. “This is not the first time.”
He smiled and stroked his beard. I scowled and wrung my hands.
“It is familiar territory for you. Besides, Christianity shows the gradual post- modern transition of a religion historically, influenced by liberal humanist values heralded by the age of reason.” He said.
I changed my activity from wringing my hands to scratching my head. ‘Whatever’- I thought. He was probably worried about his head and various parts of his anatomy. It is sane to restrict oneself to Christianity. Even a two hundred thousand year old miracle man, as he claimed to be, has to fear something.
“Have you noticed that all religions are against birth control? Why do you think that is? He asked me.
That was true. Recently even fringe Hindu leaders had called for rapid production of babies, to counter some nonsense or the other. It was essential, he had said. Christian Bishops were very much concerned, that the Syrian Christian Nasranis of Kerala would go extinct, much like the lion-tailed Macqaque of the Western Ghats. The church organisation had promised free education and public adulation of couples who produce more than two, and upto half a dozen children. No. Not upto. There is no upper limit. The clergy are not concerned with how many you produce, as long as it is not their responsibility to bring them up.
Pope Francis, as usual spoke up against this kind of thinking. “Let us not breed like rabbits”- He said, kicking up a sandstorm. Many believers said that he looks like Michael Gorbachev and he will do something similar to what the latter did.
“I thought that was obvious. It is to increase their tribe, so that the religion’s members will grow. Their power and standing in the world will increase. Nowadays, you cant do it by conversions.” I said.
“Well- it is a constitutional right. But it is not polite anymore. Insisting that your belief system alone is correct is seen somehow, as wrong by the general public. Some kind of nebulous, universal code of ethics slowly seems to be taking shape.” I said, straining my meagre neurons to the maximum.
“Nebulous, universal code of ethics- ah!” He sighed with satisfaction. “There you have it- the International Conspiracy.”
I remained silent, as a sort of nebulous realization began to dawn.
“Do you know that a miracle is happening right in front of our eyes?” The Highly Realistic Guru said, bringing a dramatic slant to his voice.
I jumped and looked around. He called me a moron.
“The birth rate is coming down, everywhere in the world. The so-called population bomb that will destroy humanity and predicted by pessimists from the nineteenth century onwards, is not happening. China has stabilized. South India has levelled off. India’s billions are stabilizing by 2030.”
I stared incredulously. I had heard that people were decreasing in many countries in Europe and Japan. But it was a world-wide phenomenon! Another genuine miracle. I thanked God.
“What are the reasons? Is it because of national policies?”
“No-“Continued Dr. H. R. Guru, MPBS. “It is happening in every part of the world, in every community. In India, some are spreading misinformation that a particular community will outbreed others. It is not going to happen. The decrease in birth rate is an unstoppable force, across all communities.”
I stared, Dumbstruck.
“You may be wondering what the reasons are. No one really knows. We can have a detailed discussion tomorrow. Now let us stop with the fact that vaccinations and a lower infant mortality rate due to advances in public health is a major reason.”
“But…” I stammered. “Those should increase the population, not decrease it.”
I couldn’t follow this line of thought. Guru laughed. A low guttural chuckle. He said:
“As soon as you are reasonably sure that the children you have, will survive to adulthood, your tendency to produce more offspring comes down. That is what vaccinations, public health and modern medicine is doing. Previously it was very common for infants and young children to die. Now, if a couple has two children, they can expect them to become adults as a matter of course, barring disasters. This was not so throughout human history.”
I was speechless. Thoughts whirled around in my head. Do women calculate all this? Do the religious leaders think this way?
“Maybe not consciously,” Said the good Guru, as if reading my thoughts. Maybe he could.
“But history plays out like this. The subconscious calculations of billions of people. Currents and counter-currents. Eddies and turbulences. All shaping the flow.” He resumed his caress of his beard.
I closed my eyes. Historical forces loomed and surged in my mind, like licks of flame from a huge inferno. I basked in the warmth.