How Samuel Hahneman entered my life


 

 

There is an apocryphal story about Samuel Hahneman, founder of homeopathic system of medicine. It seems he asked someone to immerse a bunch of iron keys in the river Seine, and then proceeded to collect samples of water five miles downstream. Testing the samples for iron content, he told correctly the number of keys in the bunch. It was not clairvoyance, but the characteristic of infinite dilution, the basis of homeopathy, he said.

Well, well, that was late 1700s, and falling sick and getting up and about thereafter was a blood curdling matter, actually. Leeches were let loose on your arm, leg or the affected body part, for a bellyfull until they dropped on their own, nice and juicy, red little berries. Purging, a theme close to yoga, was a frightful experience. Enemas were used liberally, purgatives were plentiful and a frequently administered potion was Venice Treacle. It was composed of 64 items with choicest ingredients like opium, myrrh and viper’s flesh. 

Hahneman was translating into German, Scottish physician and chemist Cullen’s work on cinchona, the cure for malaria. Unconvinced by Cullen’s arguments, he chewed on some cinchona bark and started to shiver and got a high fever, the symptoms of malaria. He concluded that all drugs administered to a healthy body produced the symptoms of the diseases they are supposed to cure. He proposed that such substances diluted infinitely in alcohol, sugar solution or water, shed their harmful effects while retaining the “spirit” of the curative properties. In other words, the “atman” of the drug stays while the “shaitan” goes away.     

No wonder, homeopathy was quite popular in the 19th century. The first homeopathic schools opened in 1830 to be followed by dozens of homeopathic institutions in Europe and America. The popularity subsequently went down seemingly because of advances in science and medicine since the 19th century. It seems 2 percent of people in Europe and USA use this form of medicine in any year. There are five homeopathic hospitals run by National Health Service of UK, and in the 1990s, between 5.9 and 7.5 percent of  English  family doctors are reported to have prescribed homeopathic remedies, a figure rising to at least 12 percent in Scotland. About 100,000 physicians used homeopathy worldwide in 2005, making it one of the most popular and widely used complementary therapies. In India, it is considered a part of Indian traditional medicine and is used by about 15 percent people every year. There are  also a number of university affiliated homeopathic colleges.

Then why homeopathy is in stasis, reported to be used by just a lakh of physicians worldwide? It seems the villain of the piece is infinite dilution. Scientists say that with that kind of dilution, nothing, not even a molecule of the drug is retained in the solution and that the whole concept is against laws of chemistry and physics. Anyway, such debates are better left in the pages of scientific journals. There are instances of people getting cured by homeopathy, including some suffering from cancer.

An offshoot of homeopathy is trichology or hair loss prevention. The Trichology Society of London, established in 1902, has recently elected a young Indian homeopath as its vice-president. While it’s all very satisfactory, it   does not explain the title of the blog. Well, like all Bengalees worth his fish, I was trying to find a match for the arranged marriage of my eldest daughter and got registered in a match-fixing agency. One of the catches was a divorced (briefly-married) homeopath practicing in U.K. and middle-east, with a base in Geneva. Very impressive, though personally I consider Homeopathy a mumbo-jumbo.

 

So, an impeccably dressed and mannered young man was at the door, ushered in from the hotel by my daughter. We were impressed more, but were startled a bit when he said that his dad would like to see a horoscope. Again a question of belief, but I suppressed my wish to throw him out remembering a cautionary article I read in Vanity Fair. The author said that girls nearing mid-thirties should get married pronto, even if it is a man with halitosis. A horoscope was also made pronto, we pored over it trying to unravel the future.

 

Apparently, satisfied with the effort, he left, flying to Dubai next day. The horoscope was sent to his dad for a scrutiny by the family shaman (guru). Next week my youngest daughter on a visit to a South Indian town (famous for taking away jobs from Americans) for office work, went to the family home nearby, met with the dad and was told that the matter was in progress. The e-mail was brief and to the point. The Homeopath regretfully informed that the horoscope did not match. Next day, comes another, requesting my daughter asking her to remain a friend adding that his dad has broken his leg by slipping on the bath room floor. That was when I put my jackbooted foot down. I wrote that I wouldn’t allow my daughter to send emails to a person whose guruji could predict distant future (like a marriage) but not the immediate future (like a broken leg).

 

So, now you know, how I came to know Sam H.  

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About chepeyja

chartered engineer(India), B.Sc., risk management consultant, blogger and layabout!
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