Volume 2 Issue 34 | May 24 , 2008 |


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From Comilla

The Practice of Akhtari Begum

Akhtari Begum isn't quite sure of how old she is. She estimates that she was born about six decades ago on a month of Srabon. Her paternal home is Hajiganj in Chandpur district. She was the daughter of a fishmonger and the eldest of five. Her family was illiterate, but she still managed to teach herself some basic literacy. Her family was doing well financially, so her father married her off to Mobarak Ali Muhuri for a high dowry. She lived well with her husband for a while. However, due to her inability to have babies, her husband brought a second wife into the home. Out of shame and humiliation, Akhtari Begum left the house and came to Comilla city. She got a home with the kobiraj Mowlana Lutfur Rahman Syedpuri. Akhtari Begum would help out with the man's practice in addition to doing work around the household. The kobiraj had two associates in addition to Akhtari. However, the kobiraj was particularly fond of Akhtari. He treated her like his own daughter. He took her under his wing and taught her how to make medicine using leaves and barks.

Thirty years passed in this way. The kobiraj, in the meantime, had tried to marry her off a second time. Akhtari did not consent. She said she wouldn't live with men anymore, men were selfish. She didn't even try to contact her parents or her sisters. She has wanted to see them though. She did not want to be a burden to her parents.

About five years ago the kobiraj died. She needed a way to make a living. She moved to Shashongacha in the city, with only three thousand taka with her. She rented a little room there. She started practicing kobiraji as learnt from her master. She started making medicine using her decades of training. At first she got no patients. Just for one meal a day she'd go door to door offering her medicine. She'd mostly treat the pain of would-be mothers, infants, asthma etc.

Gradually her practice grew. Nowadays his house gets crowded with patients. Every evening she gets about ten to twelve patients. Good word of mouth spreads. Some praise her, others speak ill of her. She doesn't care. Akhtari Begum uses mostly local shrubs and barks to make her medicine. However she refuses to name her exact ingredients, it violates a kobiraji code. Two eighteen year old girls help her. Girls who have been shunned by society have found a living working with her. She tends to about 20 to 30 patients per week. She earns about taka three thousand per month. She has to spend about taka 1500 on medicine. Most of her patients are low income people. She has saved up a good amount of money in the last three to four years. She is thinking of leaving her rented room to purchase her own place. About her helpers, she says “I am helpless, and some more helpless girls live with me. They could have been my daughters.”

As for whether anyone has truly been cured by Akhtari's treatments, this cannot be found out for sure. However, Akhtari has treated about 1000 people so far. She has not received complaints from anyone yet. She calls herself a successful kobiraj. She says she is qualified to treat all kinds of diseases. She even tries to treat cancer as a 'challenge'. She calls humans children of nature; they live with what nature gives them. If something goes wrong with the body, it is because of nature. And nature holds the power to cure.

Asked about her plans for the future, Akhtari has said that she wants to live the rest of her life helping people. If she gets enough donations, she dreams that one day she will set up a kobiraji hospital.

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