An Ordinary Life 4 - Maatukaalai
Dr.Maatukaalai's biggest crib was his name.
Contrary to what people thought, for the first year of his life, he would gurgle in answer to a rather erm...ordinary Anand. His trouble started the day he turned two, when he fell grievously ill with some un-diagnosable disease.
After running from pillar to post and doctor to quack, his parents fell at the painted clay feet of the six-feet tall Ayyanar God in their village. Two days after final surrender to the pagan lord, the boy miraculously sat up and spoke his first word. He said : "Maatukaalai." At least they thought he said, "Maatukaalai."
Taking this as the word from the Lord, his grandmother went right ahead and re-named him Maatukaalai. The child's parents, city-lubbers both, flinched as they heard the matriarch pronouncing the name. Not that they had any say in the matter. The father tried to protest feebly for the two of them, but the matriarch would have none of it: "Ayyanar is a powerful God. He will not take it well if you ignore his command. Maatukaalai it will be."
And so it was.
* * *
Pondering over his life as he saw it later, Maatukaalai thought things would not have been so bad if they had not moved to the city. If they had stayed in the village, he would have been Maatukalai still, but it was more likely that the name would have blended in with the landscape of the village.
Only six months after the nomenclature tragedy in his life, Maatukalai and his parents moved to Chennai. As a little lisper, the boy, when asked his name would say, "Maadu."
And the adults would roll with laughter.
When Maatukkalai went to kindergarten, his Anglo-Indian teacher couldn't say his name very well. The other boys in the class could, and they found it very funny, as boys are wont to. They never stopped finding it funny. Consequently, the little boy, who did not fancy being the joke, dreaded going to school; his fertile imagination would work up several excuses to play hookey, but he never managed to convince his parents. Unfortunately for him, Maatukaalai had not suffered from as much as a cold since his dramatic recovery at the age of two and his parents knew that.
So he turned inward, shy, retiring, a nerd, with his face buried in his books. Not surprisingly, he did well in school, which only made the boys laugh at him harder. "Nerdy cow-bull" they would call him, the convent boys that they were.
* * *
No one was surprised when Maatukalai went on to medical college. They were no more surprised when, at the end of five years, he took home more gold medals than any student ever had.
However, when he asked for his first posting in rural Tamil Nadu, most people who knew him were startled. They believed he was throwing away his future, his postgraduation in Harvard Medical School, a career in neurology, his life. Some thought his desire to serve the rural poor was commendable.
But Dr.Maatukaalai was only living out his only desire; he sincerely believed that going rural was his only way to merge with the landscape, what with a name like his. He packed his bags and took a long ride bumpy bus-ride to Viralimalai, stepping off the bus with a steth around his neck, his lips cracking up involuntarily in anticipation of a new life.
* * *
You couldn't have expected him to forsee that the villagers, in their fondness for their first- ever resident physician, would come to refer to him as 'Maattu-daktar.'*
*Maattu-daktar - rural Tamil slang for a vet. Translates literally to "cow-doctor"