DAVANGERE: It’s around 2.30 pm when Dr Siddalingappa Murugeppa Yeli walks in. The faces of his patients, who have been waiting for him at his clinic, light up as they catch sight of his entry. The 80-year-old general physician has just returned to his clinic at MCC B Block in Davanagere after conducting rounds at the JJM Medical College Hospital. The patients flock around their favourite doctor. Yeli patiently hears their complaints before prescribing medicines.
While some offer him Rs 10, Rs 20 or Rs 30 as consultation fee, a few don’t pay anything. Those who pay more than Rs 30 are returned the excess amount, with Yeli telling them, “Keep it with you. This is more than enough.”
As patients wait for their turn, they don’t get tired of praising him, talking about how he distributes, for free, medicines that he gets as samples from pharma companies, or recommends free tests for the poor at his diagnostics centre, or even gives bus fare to those in need. Reasons enough for local people to call him ‘The Walking God of Davanagere’.
“While Dr Shivakumara Swamiji of Siddaganga Mutt, who offered free education, food and shelter, was a Walking God, our Dr Yeli is the Walking God of Davanagere,” says K M Kuberayya, a resident of Shagle, who has been consulting the doctor for 25 years. He adds that Yeli has solved his nerve weakness problem successfully.
Laxmi, who has been consulting Yeli for 15 years, says, “He has charged me a maximum of Rs 20 or sometimes nothing at all.” Dr Yeli has been serving the poor in Davanagere for 50 years. Patients say he also conducts free medical camp at Shivayogi Mandira once a year. “It is my duty to serve the society as I have benefited from it greatly. There is nothing special in this,” the doctor says in the midst of examining his patients. “I am honestly doing my duty. I decided about this long ago,” he adds.
When asked about his low consultation fee, he explains, “Many people cannot afford medical services. We should not burden patients who are already suffering from diseases that incur expensive treatments. We must give them mental support.”
Dr Yeli, who lives next to the clinic, begins his daily duty at 8 am. He attends to his patients at the clinic till 11 am, after which he goes to JJM Medical College Hospital to check the in-patients there. He returns to his clinic around 1.30 pm, and examines patients till 5 pm.
He again goes to the hospital at 5.30pm for rounds and returns to his clinic at 7.30pm, seeing patients till 11 pm. He makes two rounds a day at JJM Hospital, taking only Rs50 per round. Even if he makes an additional trip if required, he charges for only two rounds.
The diagnostic centre, owned by Yeli’s son, also conducts free tests for the poor patients referred by him. It, however, collects a fee from other patients. Dr Yeli also urges budding doctors to serve everyone without expecting much in return. He welcomes the one-year compulsory medical service in rural areas for medical students. “When they can take help from the government, they must render service for at least one year at government hospitals,” he says.
Dr Yeli was born in 1939 in a poor family at Hamsabhavi in Dharwad district. He completed his school education at Hamsabhavi and intermediate science education at Karnataka College Dharwad. He pursued MBBS at Karnataka Medical College in Hubballi in 1962 and earned his MD (General Medicine) from Topiwala National Medical College in Mumbai in 1968.
He joined JJM Medical College as a lecturer, and worked at the institute as professor and head of the department. He retired in 2005 but continues to visit the hospital for rounds. Yeli has two sons -- Dr Vinay Yeli and Dr Suman Yeli -- who are also doctors. He treats nearly 100 patients at his clinic every day. He has a Maruti Zen car which he bought 15 years ago.
FOR THE POOR
Dr Yeli’s compassion for the poor was there for everyone to see when he was conferred the honorary doctorate by Davangere University this year. The function got over at 1.30pm, and all the dignitaries were requested to have lunch. However, Yeli politely refused, saying his patients were waiting for him at the clinic. He then rushed to the clinic to examine them.