I met Shijo when I was residing at Valatt in Wayanad district famous for its verdant hills, flora and fauna and pristine beauty of numerous natural wonders. The house which I had rented was a small one with tiled roofs and stood in midst of a residential area where most houses were scattered far from one another. There were no modern houses except for few and land was cheaper than in the towns or the center of Valatt. Valatt stood about 4 kilometers away from where I stayed.
At that time I could afford only this much and yet to me it looked quite a luxury with a river flowing nearby and surrounded by lush green tropical rainforest filled valleys and mountains. What I liked most was the spot and the highly creative inputs that came during my stay there. At that time I was somehow managing with my writing income. The area had no Internet and therefore I did all my writing in long hand and then later took it to one of the nearby towns within the district and had them typed to be sent online or offline by post. I also thought myself lucky as there were enough vegetables and fruits growing in the wild and where no one objects if you pick a few of these so long as the same is away from property boundaries. Thus, I could save some money on essentials too.
I loved the place as the place was quite silent with folks rather simple and non-interfering. I later realized that this was more of disgruntled indifference than a reason for benign well being. Besides, the place was sparsely populated.
I met Shijo last September when I went to watch a movie at one of Valatt’s not so modern cinema halls. The town was that evening quite crowded and had several restaurants and shopping centers filled with people. It was a tourist area although not so known within the state or outside and most of them were trekkers who loved to explore the wild life of which the area had in abundance. At nights near to the place where I stayed wild elephants have often been spotted and so did wild cats or wild bulls. Naturally, during night time everyone were obliged to lock themselves indoors or light up flaming fires to ward off any curious and prowling creatures.
It was during the interval inside the cinema hall that Shijo accosted me in a friendly way. I was having an ice-cream and Shijo gave one of his charming smiles while he ordered his. We exchanged a few words about the movie and also the climate. Later, the interval being a small one, we once more returned to our seats to see the continuation of the movie.
Shijo had somehow spotted me while I walked leisurely out the main gates of the cinema hall. It seemed that he wanted some kind of help.
“Do you stay here?” he asked me while slowing his pace and we both were out of the main gates.
“No,” I replied. “I stay about 4 kilometers from here.”
“How will you reach there?” he again asked.
“Well, I have my bicycle parked at the parking lot meant for two wheelers and I am quite used to riding long distance on it.”
Over a coffee which Shijo insisted that I must share details about my work while Shijo gave his. I was quite surprised to hear that he was a doctor who was experienced in homeopathy, naturopathy and some herbal treatments and massages. He told me that he had a very good consultancy set up at Valatt town and asked me to step into it which was only a walking distance from where we sat. I refused politely and told him about returning back home as there were often threat of wild animals at night. However, he asked me to drop at his consultancy whenever I could and gave me the address.
I gave a call to Shijo, or Dr. Shijo as his clinic signboard suggested, one fine morning the following week when I visited Valatt as I had to visit the town post office to send a printed manuscript to my publisher. He had several patients that day and I had to wait for a whole hour before he was able to meet me. When he did see me, he was all smiles.
“Sorry to have kept you waiting,” he said with genuine regret on his face. “Of all days today’s was a very busy one. Not on all days I have such a lot of patients. It is so because the nearest two allopathic doctors have left for better scope in larger cities.”
“Oh, it’s all right.” I answered. “I just dropped in to see you while finishing my work at the post office.”
“Do you send your stories frequently? You must be making good money then?”
“I live frugally and this way I happen to adjust, that’s all. There isn’t that kind of money in my work so that you may live a luxurious life. But I love it all the same.”
“Okay Roshan, do you know of any place nearby where I can put up so that I do not have to pay for the hotel charges? I have been living like this for the past two months and naturally I have to spend a sizeable amount that I earn as a doctor. Sometimes, there are only a couple of patients or so and this can be quite trying on my pockets.”
“Well, aren’t there any good rooms for rent here?”
“Sure, I did that. But nothing seemed to fit in properly. You know they always think that a doctor means a lot of money and hence they charge you high advances and this is usually four to six months rent.”
“In the town you will have that kind of problem, but if you settle somewhere away then the rents would fall. I do have my place yet it can be a problem for you as it is 4 kilometers from here.”
“Hi, Roshan, I would be quite happy if you let out only one of the rooms and let me have access to the bathroom. I tell you I shall pay you fifty percent of the house rent. As for the distance, that wouldn’t be a problem as I have my motorbike with me.”
“Are you sure you want to move in with me?” I asked for I thought that if I could get some relief on the rent then it could help me save more. “I like my privacy however. As for the bathroom you may have another room with an adjacent bathroom. I have a separate one where I sleep.”
“No problem,” returned Shijo immediately. “I would be out of your way for the most parts of day and I too love privacy and do not want anyone nosing into my things.”
Two days later Shijo moved in to my house. He brought in two large suitcases full of medicines and an assortment of stuffs that doctors usually carried about with them. He had them tied on to his motorbike quite precariously and somehow was able to get them to my rented place without any mishap.
Over the next two months Shijo kept his promise and gave me fifty percent of the rent. He really never bothered to even look at what I was doing, but spent most of his daytime at his town clinic while during the evenings he consulted patients that consisted of poor villagers, farmers and tribal people in his room. Of course, his patients were far less than in the town and I figured that Shijo’s practice was anything, but highly profitable. If one were to look at his overhead expenses like his lavish lifestyle and paying rent for staying with me as well as the payment he made regularly for his town clinic then he would be just about surviving.
He had put a signboard in the front of the house and I let him to do it if that really helps him bring in enough patients. Yet unfortunately there were very little patients. I even felt that Shijo may not be a qualified doctor as I had earlier thought. I could sense this during one or more of our casual conversations either early in the mornings before he left or late in the evenings when he had no patients to see. Of course, he didn’t state so out rightly, but I could understand that deep within him there were tremors that gave away now and then when he mentioned of one or two medical practitioners setting up practice at the center of the town.
After a couple of months of stay I saw that Shijo was becoming more restless. I noticed this in his behavior and the way he cursed some of his patients when they left him. It was no great surprise that many of his patients left him without paying him the fees that he demanded. Several paid in kind, even after he insisted them not to, and this was in the form of vegetables, fruits and wild honey. Some of the patients paid him only a quarter of what he demanded assuring him to pay the rest when the harvest season was over. This was as good as saying that they had nothing to pay now or ever.
Shijo didn’t like this at all and confided in me that what he really needed was a change of tack so that he could meet his overhead expenses. He told me that many of his patients had the money, but refused to part with even a little sum as they had a mindset that thought little of people who were educated. As for the education they were all literate by the national standards of assessment yet none knew there was a world outside this that yielded a larger economic and lifestyle value. In other words, these simpletons thought that there were only certain areas or occupations that have the right to levy fees while some other areas are not privileged to do so.
I didn’t argue with him for I knew that there was little could be done to change the mindset of the people. Also, I was not quite inspired by Shijo’s way of practice as all throughout he prepared concoctions rather than resort to any prescription medicines. Yet he paid me the rent without fail and that was what I was really interested.
Shijo did change tack and this he did all at once. He started going to places delivering his medicines and even consulted patients at their homes on way so that he could cover more patients. Naturally, more patients fell for his suave and warm smiles. Undoubtedly, a lot of them got cured much to my amazement although I didn’t consult Shijo for any illness. In those days, I had very little illness and most of them would go off with a bowl of hot gruel and pain balms and some over the counter prescription drugs.
I also noticed his workload and guessed that he was also preparing stronger concoctions and powders as the smell that wafted into my room weren’t quite pleasant enough. However, I didn’t mind this in least and thought of the loneliness that lifted itself away when he came back during the evenings.
It was during the month of August when the whole of Wayanad was experiencing thunder and copious flow of rain that Dr. Shijo asked me whether I would be interested in doing a part time work for him. He sounded casual, but I knew that he wanted help badly for he was finding the trips to his numerous patients, all residing in far flung tiny colonies and semi-urban habitats, quite laborious.
“Look Roshan,” he said. “There is no pressure although I do need help badly for delivering medicines in this kind of weather conditions and that too late in the evenings is a little too trying. If you don’t want to do then I shall have to look out for someone else. But you are my most trusted choice as you know the place quite well and also may do the delivery during broad daylight. You may of course choose your time and I shall pay you for each delivery you make. The payment would be on weekends.”
“Okay,” I replied a little hesitatingly. “But I will not do too much of it for I have my writing to do.”
“Of course, I can understand that,” he replied happy at my answer. “I wouldn’t bother you much. But request you to deliver only those that I find a little difficult to do in the evenings as you know I cannot relieve myself of my duties at my town clinic before 6 pm. Again, of course if you wish to do more such deliveries then you may just ask me and I shall without fail make payments accordingly.”
“All right, I shall give it a try,” I replied casually without sounding as if I was eager for it. As far I was concerned, there was very little risk involved and besides meeting people may give me enough creative ideas which I can later convert into stories.
It was then game for both of us while for me the deliveries were quite few although the rain did play some hurdle. Apart from wearing my raincoat everywhere the undulating hilly roads were rather slippery and sometimes I would get exhausted, but nevertheless I enjoyed the experience. I happily agreed to do more deliveries as the payment was something that I enjoyed and my writing eventually slowed down in pace much to my regret later.
Shijo gave me medicines to be delivered in well packed plastic bags so there was no fear of any of his powders or concoction becoming ruined or spilled out. Our friendship grew and I sensed that he was becoming greedier too. I didn’t mind this for if money didn’t flow to him I would get less of it too and perhaps nothing. In order to be helpful I even helped him in parceling the medicines. Sometimes, he would ask me to grind paracetamol tablets on a small granite piece so that the powder could be mixed with others. I didn’t like this but he assured me that he had been doing it for more than a decade and therefore quite safe.
“You know some of my medications take time for any visible affect to take place,” he explained to me. “Naturally, most patients want quicker results and hence there is no harm in facilitating the speed of the cure.”
I was now convinced that Shijo was a quack doctor, but I didn’t tell him that I had understood it.
It was only when Fathima, Anand and Vijayan became ill and died after failing to recover that things turned a little ugly. Each died on the successive weeks in the above order and exhibited the same symptoms during their last days. It seemed that Dr. Shijo’s medication was a sure case of overdose. Besides, all three had only simple fever and side pains and given some time the illness would have vanished all on its own. Apart from these deaths Shijo had made deliveries through me some of his special medications that when taken would give the patient hallucinations and drunken behavior. All this happened during the month of September and by then some people were up in arms. For the first time of my association with Shijo, I was frightened.
The families of the dead patients suddenly became suspicious about Shijo and spread the word around. Soon the matter was registered with the police and I was literally shocked to see a couple of policemen visiting my rented place to enquire about a Dr. Shijo. When they searched the place they found nothing and I knew that Shijo must have preempted them by getting rid off all other stuffs except for the few genuine medicines. But I realized that there were a few jars that were not there and perhaps those contained drugs or ganja.
After some days the hues and cries died out and both of us avoided going to the specific spots where his patients died. Shijo proved much smarter than I thought and had convinced the police that the death was not due to his medicines, but due to some kind of diet poisoning. He also gave them some money to cover up any further investigation as he later told me.
Although these incidents affected Shijo’s practice, he was still persistent. Still the results were not up to his expectations as he was thinking of purchasing a car. Meanwhile, both of us had our own mobiles, with Shijo, of course, having a couple of expensive brands. I too thought of purchasing a scooter when things improved. However, things never did improve and to make matters worse, Shijo started to drink. He even prescribed medicines that one way or the other didn’t go well with most patients and in turn brought in more trouble. Naturally, this resulted in lesser deliveries and it meant that I too had very little funds flowing into my pockets. I also came to know that Shijo had not paid rent for his clinic for the past two months.
This time I felt that I had lost my last vestige of self control and one evening marched into Shijo’s room when he was reaching for the bottle of rum.
“Shijo, what is the meaning of this? I demanded angrily. “You are not doing your practice properly and there are only very few patients coming in. Further, you have also damaged your goodwill and very soon you will not be able to pay the fifty cut on the rent you have promised to me.”
He looked at me a little stunned for he never anticipated such a reaction from me. I realized that his pride had got a knock although I knew that things had gone on too much and there may more problems if the same situation continued.
Without waiting for a reply, I again asked him, “Look Shijo, if things turn out ugly then both of us would be in jail. Tell me, what sort of answer can I give to my landlord? Luckily, he is residing a little far away and I always send him the payment by post. But were he to hear about all this then both of us would be asked to get out that very instant.”
Shijo took off his hands from the rum bottle and nodded his head in understanding.
“You are so right, Roshan,” he told me unhappily. “Of late, things have not been going as well as I thought. In order to make some quick money I had indulged in some stupid dream, but all that had backfired. However, to tell you the truth I am going to stop all that and continue with my practice as I did earlier.”
I had a little difficulty in believing this, but didn’t argue. The following days Shijo, it seemed to me, had become quite quiet and was only concentrating on his practice. The deliveries were two or three in the entire week and I thought that perhaps things may improve. It doesn’t take much time for words to travel that Shijo had become a new leaf altogether. What were needed were a few quick miraculous cures or something of that nature.
That September Shijo paid my rent in three hesitating installments. I was worried, but didn’t tell him so. Shijo was again doing canvassing at some newer tribal colonies, but results were not to the mark. He never looked drunk, at least in front of me or for my sake, and also due to the rented space that he needed so much. But his greed always existed deep within him although I could get to know of it only after sometime.
Dr. Shijo would always tell me about his marketing efforts and the types of people he met. There now existed no wall of separation for both us and each would talk about our future and less about our past. Quite often he would tell me about one or more of his cousins who with merely nothing in their hands made fortunes or the other guy who would ensnare a lot of rich people to sell insurance or some other products and thereby make sufficient money to lead a luxurious life. Then there were tales of land brokers who made piles of money without doing as much as making a few trips here or there.
“One day I shall get a handful of rich clients and then live peacefully with a steady good flow of income, he told me one evening during such conversations. “Then these tribal and farmers can go to hell.”
True to his words and determination and his strategic initiatives in making great deals, Shijo eventually landed a wealthy landlord as his client. The old man, nearing his eighties, had little physical problems, but was driven by a psychological urge to get the best medicines so as to ward himself of any future sudden attack of diseases that old age may bring about. He was quite wealthy and owned acres of land, both paddy and cash crops, apart from a shopping complex at the heart of Valatt town. In order to appease him, his five sons agreed to Dr. Shijo’s medication that looked harmless. Shijo also assured them that he would give them only the mild ones so that the stuff would have only placebo effect and not jeopardize the old man’s health. This understanding brought forth a win-win situation for all stakeholders.
Shijo was now quite well off with weekly visits to the old man while his sons paid him lavishly although he told me that they were always at each other’s throat for property rights belonging to the old wealthy landlord. It seemed that the old man hadn’t as yet given in to their appeals to let them handle the wealth in the way they wanted, but could do so only upon his death.
Contrary to my expectation, Shijo didn’t stop seeing any patients that came to his clinic or doorstep. I guessed that he needed to be seen practicing to be of any relevance to the old man’s sons. He took special care to deliver the medicines himself to the old man while I took my deliveries to the ordinary folks and tribal people.
Shijo often told me that the old man’s sons had complete trust on him and they wouldn’t hesitate to consult him about the value of land in the town and in other parts of the state. For this, Shijo got on to learning quite a bit about land and commissions paid to brokers. He also gained enough information pertaining to land cost and how to increase land value by dividing the land into equal parts and then fencing them while at the same time making sure that a small portion of each part is sacrificed for making way for a road that eventually led to the main street.
Shijo one evening told me that he has been promised extra income by the wealthy landowner’s sons as brokerage if he were to bring in any prospective clients to them. I didn’t goad him with more questions and was thankful that he was trying to earn money in other legitimate ways.
It never rained much in October yet that evening the water from heavens was coming down in torrents and the valley where I resided was exceptionally cold. I had delivered at least a dozen parcels containing medicines that day and was back to have hot coffee. An hour later Shijo turned up and went straight into his room where he locked himself in without enquiring as to how my day was as was usually the norm. I kept to myself and went making rotis and some dal.
After dinner Shijo came to me and said that he was not feeling well and would require some rest. He also told me that he had his dinner with the old landlord’s sons. I didn’t see anything particularly wrong with him yet thought that the weather may have proved to be of some problem. But before he went to his room, he told me that he has to prepare some concoctions before taking rest.
I didn’t bother him and was surprised to see him waking early the next morning and handing me a wad of notes, all in hundreds before he went to his clinic. He told me that this was special bonus for me for guiding him properly so that he was able to gain more remunerative practice.
“Is this all for me?” I asked him stupefied.
“Sure, it is for you,” he replied. “After having landed with a steady income from my rich client I was thinking as to how to repay you for all you have done for me.”
That evening Shijo was full of high spirits. He came directly to my room after keeping his bag inside his room.
“Roshan, today I met one of my relations in the town who told me that one of my cousins was marrying,” Shijo told me. “He left, of course, but not without making me promise to be there tomorrow. So, I am thinking of going to my village tomorrow and shall be back the following week without fail. Make sure that you deliver all the medicines till I arrive here. I shall give you the packages along with the list. As for the patients you may tell them to come here the following weekend. I hope it won’t be a problem for you?”
“Of course not,” I replied without hesitation. “Leave everything to me and I shall deliver the medicines without any hitch.”
“Fine, thank you,” he said smiling one of his happy smiles. “In any case I shall be here by next week. So you needn’t worry. And by the way can you deliver another simple dose to the old landlord too. I will have them packed. Of course, I know that you have been there with me only on one occasion, but the sons wouldn’t mind if you make the delivery.”
“I shall do that as I know the place quite well,” I assured him.
“Then make the delivery tomorrow evening for the old man would be away whole of the morning to visit some relation of his.”
I agreed and Shijo went to pack his bag so as to leave early next morning.
After an hour Shijo handed me the list and the various medications in the form of concoctions and powders neatly packed. He again gave me a thousand rupees more in case I needed them. I pocketed it gratefully, although guilty thinking as to whether I too was becoming greedy like him. As for the rich old man’s medicines he had packed them in a neater package with name attached to it. I hardly knew the number of covers that enclosed this specific package, but I could guess that there were several wrappers beneath for so greatly Dr. Shijo valued this particular client.
“Be extra careful with this one.” he pleaded to me. “He is one of my most important clients.”
“Don’t you worry, Shijo,” I told him laughingly. “I know the value of a package and the client when I see one. I shall deliver it tomorrow evening itself.”
He retraced his steps back to his room while I went to finish a thriller novel which I was reading. At around 9.30 pm I dropped my book on my bed and went to drink a glass of water. After quenching my thirst I went to see whether the main door was locked or not. Seeing the front door locked and upon seeing light seeping through Shijo’s closed door, I went near it and had a peep through a crack in the old door. To my utter astonishment I saw Shijo sitting on his bed in front of his bag that contained dozens of wads of currency notes. He was simply gazing at the sealed notes singing a tune softly and then when he shut the bag I quickly retraced my steps back into my room and locked it.
I was flabbergasted as to how Shijo got the money. Perhaps he must have a windfall as a land broker with the help of the rich landlord’s sons and was planning to go to his village to invest in properties. Whatever it may be Shijo at that moment looked as if he had achieved what he had actually set out to achieve. In other words, he achieved a huge lot of money. Anyway I wasn’t grumbling for he took care to give me a fair share now and then. Perhaps after he returned I can ask him for a scooter to deliver his medicines. I personally thought that the objective was quite good.
The next morning Shijo left just as I was climbing out of my bed. He rushed to my room to say a fast goodbye and soon I heard his bike starting and he vanished from the scene.
After my deliveries that day were over I went back to my house and took a bath and then had some snacks that I cooked myself. Later when it was dusk I took my bag containing the rich old landlord’s medicines and then hung it loosely on my shoulder while I pedaled my bicycle leisurely. I was used to outings at night and enjoyed the cool breeze and the occasional shower. Whenever the downpour became heavy I would stop for a while to open my umbrella and hold it in one hand balancing on my bicycle would proceed on.
Darkness arrived faster in the hilly area as the sun set behind the towering hills earlier. I approached the landlord’s gate and parked my bicycle a little distance away. While I covered the ground from my vehicle to the gate I heard hush whispers of few people speaking from within the compound gates.
“Are you sure that he would be here with the medicine?” One voice asked.
“Of course, he would,” returned another. “He never fails that is for sure.”
“This time the medicine is sure to be a strong one, isn’t it?” asked yet another.
“”Why are you so filled with doubts? Dr. Shijo had assured me for the sum we had given him.”
“So, this will be the final medicine. Let’s wait then. He should be on the way by now.”
I heard the full conversation standing in absolute silence near the main gates leading to the large house. My heart nearly missed its beats as I stood transfixed on the spot. These people were the old landlord’s sons and they had resolved this delivery him the ‘final medicine’. The looming shadows of the gates and the trees had hidden me well and I made no movement to go to the gates. What I heard shocked me and I realized that I was merely a scapegoat for a larger design. It dawned upon me that Shijo will never return back and I would be booked for murder. They had planned it all meticulously although Shijo realizing the danger has given them the slip by pocketing large sums of money. If at all anything went wrong I would be questioned as I knew nothing about Shijo’s past or home place, I would be booked for first degree murder or an accomplice.
I stealthily retraced my steps to my bicycle, pushed it along for several dozen yards as quietly as I could, and then rode away as fast as possible. Upon reaching my house my first instinct was to explore Shijo’s room and doing so I found what I wanted to see. There lay on the shelf an empty bottle marked potassium cyanide.
It took me one full day to clean both my room and Shijo’s. I got rid off all the traces of Shijo’s medicines and so also his signboard. I informed the few patients that came there that Shijo had left for his native town and that I had no idea as to when he would return. I told them that I only did the deliveries for him and knew nothing else.
The very next day before the landlord’s sons came to inquire about the failed delivery I packed my bags and left the place for good.