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Raj Merchant cures patients with the help of leaves
As I talk with naturopath Dr Raj Merchant, I am wracked by a persistent cough. He stares at me for a few moments, takes a bottle from his table, unscrews the cap and puts a drop on my fingertip. “Just place it on your tongue,” he says. I do so and, within moments, I can feel a soothing sensation at the base of my throat. “You will no longer cough for the rest of the interview,” Merchant says, with the confidence of one who has seen this happen all the time. And so, the interview carries on smoothly.
Merchant, (61), has an unusual way of treating people: he uses leaves, either in natural form, or grinded to a paste or in liquid form, as his medicine. Some of the leaves he uses are those of the bougainvillea, guava, periwinkle, the tulsi, the money plant, the cactus, the flame of the forest and karipatta. “I prefer karipatta because it is freely available and everybody knows what it is,” he says. “It helps to control blood pressure, kidney and digestive disorders, among other things. In fact, all leaves have medicinal properties.”
If you have fever, he says, the treatment is simple: just go to your neighbourhood flower seller, buy 50 tulsi leaves, wash it properly, “because of the presence of pesticides”, grind it, mix it with water and drink it. “Within ten minutes, you will start perspiring and the fever will go down,” he says.
Merchant provides treatment for jaundice, joint pains, paralysis, heart problems, asthma, thyroid, cancer, migraines and the common cold. For my sore throat, he had given a concoction of mint and several other leaves.
So how did this story begin? Years ago, when he was a young man, he had gone to a place near Gir forest in Gujarat for a wedding. In those days, the weddings lasted three days, and, one morning, feeling bored, he climbed a nearby hillock and saw a man meditating under a tree. “His aura drew me towards him” he says. “I sat next to him for two hours and then he asked me, ‘What do you want?’ I replied, ‘Nothing. I like you and I like the peace here and I don’t know what made me sit next to you.’”
After a while, Merchant told the man, Mukherjee Babu, about his grandmother who had fallen sick and doctors were talking of amputating her leg. So Mukherjee gave him a plant and asked him to grind it and use it as a paste over parts of her body, which was causing pain. “He also told me that I should make my grandmother drink the juice of French beans,” he says. His grandmother recovered, the leg was saved and Merchant became a convert. A few months later, he returned and stayed with Mukherjee for a week and learned a lot more about the medical properties of leaves.
Meanwhile, his father had an industrial unit making electric insulators and after graduating in commerce from Sydenham College, Merchant began assisting him. But, after his father died in 1977, he found it difficult to sustain the business. “So, in 1978, I took the plunge and became a full-fledged naturopath,” he says. “It needed a lot of nerve to do it.”
Merchant operated from his home, which he inherited from his father. You have to see it, to believe it. It is only a ten-minute walk from Malad railway station, on the eastern side, and it is a paradise: an acre of greenery. Apart from the main building, the clinic is housed on one side and the room is large and spacious. Through the open windows, you can see the trees, with the leaves a shimmering green because the monsoon rain has washed off all the dust. Opposite the house is the Army’s Central Ordnance Depot, a swathe of land running into a couple of hundred acres. So there is no sound, except for the most unusual one: the squeal of squirrels as they rush up and down tree trunks. Incidentally, Merchant gets the leaves from around his house, the Aarey Milk Colony, which is 2 kms away, and from a 28-acre farm in Vashi where he grows all types of plants; it belongs to a friend.
“Initially, I had a very tough time,” he says. “People could not believe that I could treat them with leaves. Those were the days when everybody found it difficult to accept herbal treatments.”
But when the few patients he treated began to heal, more patients began to trickle through word of mouth. Luckily for him, he was able to cure a couple of journalists who had been suffering from piles. “When I received media coverage, the trickle became a flood,” he says. Today, he receives between ten to fifteen patients a day and, for most of them, when it comes to payment, he points to a white donation box that lies on a bench in his clinic. “I have seen the suffering of people,” he says. “So, instead of demanding something from them, I want them to give willingly. I use the money I get to provide free medicine for poor people.”
And there is another good side effect: “I have a good night’s sleep, I have mental peace, I am very happy and at this age, I just want to serve people as much as I can.”