BELAGAVI: They say you can’t really understand someone and their struggles unless you walk a mile in their shoes — a saying commonly used to remind us of the importance of empathy. And coming from a humble background helped Dr Annappa N Bali understand the struggles of the economically-backward, especially when it comes to being able to afford healthcare. So for his own practice, the doctor, who is popularly referred to as ‘hatta rupayi doctor’ (Rs 10 doctor) in the town of Bailhongal in Belagavi district, has adopted a more humane approach.
The 79-year-old’s clinic is always crowded with patients, most of them hailing from the financially-weaker sections. On an average, Dr Bali treats between 75 to 150 patients per day, and among them, almost 50 per cent are treated free of cost.
The remaining patients pay a fee of just Rs 10 per patient (he never charges more than Rs10), which includes tablets, injections and other treatments too. His philanthropy is what earned him the nickname, which has made him a known figure throughout Bailhongal taluk. The doctor examines patients at his clinic from 10 am to 1.30 pm, and then from 4 pm to 7.30 pm. However, a long line of patients can be seen at his clinic from 9 am onwards. A three-member team helps him with patients at his clinic.
Dr Bali recalls his childhood when his family faced severe financial problems. He says he was able to get education by staying at a free boarding school. “Later, I was helped by some people and was able to complete my MBBS at KMC, Hubballi. Then, I got a diploma in ENT in Mysuru in 1978,” he says.
Dr Bali worked as a health officer at the government’s Health Department in 1967, after which, he says, he saw ‘better days’. He retired in 1998, by which time he was district surgeon. “I know what bitter poverty is like - I have tasted it too,” says Dr Bali, adding that he is now well settled, and has his own house and property. “I have no reason to chase money now. I just want peace of mind, which I get by treating poor patients,” he says with a sense of satisfaction.
However, Dr Bali is of the opinion that if he provides free treatment to all his patients, they won’t understand the importance of it. So, he only provides free treatment to those patients who are in desperate need of it and says he has the ability to identify them. “Those who are charged pay Rs 10,” he says.
It isn’t just the cost-effective treatment that his patients keep coming back to Dr Bali’s clinic. The treatment he provides has also made him a popular figure in Bailhongal. Ashok Kurer, one of his patients, says, “It seems as if Dr Bali does magic due to which patients get cured fast. He talks softly to us, and his treatment is like magic potion - he is like no other doctor in the taluk.” Says another patient, “He is a role model for us.”
“I am giving back to the poor, what God had given me in my needy days. And I will continue my services till I can,” Dr Bali says.