Adil Jussawalla

On his Father – Dr. Jehangir Jussawalla

(Originally printed in ‘Parsiana’, reproduced here with kind permission of the author)

A Place in the Sun

Milk, massage, machines… Dr Jehangir Jussawalla used these to restore absolute, positive health in his Nature Cure Clinic.

On July 29, 1993, I bought two pairs of pathanis at English Shoes, Lahore, and casually asked the salesman – a middle-aged man – if he knew anything about a house in Temple Street where the Jussawallas once lived. He looked at me with wide-open eyes. “The Jussawallas? They were very well-known. The house must still be there.”

It may have been, it may still be, but I never found it. I found Temple Street but no one I asked could direct me to a house where a family called the Jussawallas had once lived. My father had told me that there was a house in Temple Street, Lahore, where he had spent part of his childhood. He couldn’t remember the number of the house; no one, to this day, can tell me. He, his mother and his three brothers left that house in 1914 and settled in Poona.

My first unsuccessful steps out of English Shoes, Lahore to find an ancestral house are linked to other, hopefully more successful steps to find my father, his years before I was born, the events that led him to be a doctor, to choose Nature Cure as his practice and to build up that practice at his clinic in Bombay. The practice thrived and his Natural Therapy Clinic, started at Petit House, Gowalia Tank on February 15, 1938 and continued the following year onwards at Sunama House, Cumballa Hill, drew a wide range of patients: Congress party leaders, film stars, sports persons, business magnates, industrialists, a police commissioner or two, but mostly middle-class professionals and housewives whose health had suffered. There were those who wanted to put on or lose weight, those who believed in the comfort of enemas and bowel-washes; those who needed to be given special kinds of massage for muscular and joint pains; those whom other systems of medicine – not just allopathy – had rejected; and those very damaged people who simply came to my father for moral and emotional guidance. He believed in treating the whole patient, with diet and nutrition as the base for his practice. He believed, as he said in his acceptance speech when he was given the Dhanvantari Award in 1989, not in normal health, but absolute, positive health.

Dr. Jussawalla1
Jussawalla in his consulting room, 1985: “absolute, positive health”
Photo : Kunal Kothari

Every patient of his that I’ve met has told me that, as a masseur, he had wonderful hands. But, like every ambitious doctor, he knew he needed more than his hands to succeed; he needed assistants. At the height of the clinic?s success, between the late ’50s and early ’70s, he had 25 assistants, women and men. In the months before his crippling fall in 1993, he had none.
He also needed machines. To the delight of my brother Firdausi and myself, the clinic, where we spent part of our childhood, had many: space-age contraptions that sent out infrared and ultraviolet rays with a faint buzz; steam-bath and radiant-heat cabinets, on which patients’ heads rested, sometimes goggle-eyed, as though they’d been decapitated; a sitz bath; a needle bath; a python-like hose that ejected water with great force – we weren’t allowed to touch it – in other words, the tempting jet bath; and glassy, tubed contraptions – again, flying-saucer furniture – for bowel washes. Like Dr Dinshah K. Mehta’s Nature Cure Clinic and Sanatorium at 6, Todiwalla Road, Poona, where my father first learned the basics of Nature Cure, his Natural Therapy Clinic was a one-stop shop. You bought the treatment you wanted, or, as was more likely, depending on the doctor’s diagnosis, you were ordered to buy something else.

My father, whom I’ll call Jehangir from this point on, didn’t seriously consider becoming a doctor until he was in his twenties. As a schoolboy, he cycled, swam, played the violin and studied normally. But a class master noticed he kept too much to himself. He was advised to become a Scout, which he reluctantly did.

He liked being a Scout. The Scout movement inspired him, and after passing a scoutmaster exam when he was 15, was made assistant scoutmaster of the Second Poona Parsi Troop.

His eyesight was bad, he began wearing glasses, and fearing physical weakness, took to what was already something of a craze among young Parsis in the ’20s – physical culture. This was basically a course of physical exercises which sometimes involved pumping iron, sometimes not. Sometimes it involved muscle control as at Mehta’s physiculture center where nude men, covered in special paint, struck dramatic poses for minutes, without moving or showing even a flicker of expression: statue-posing.
massage roomElectric room
1. Massage room; 2. An electric room 3.(below) Steam Bath

Steam bathDespite being part of Mehta’s physical culture group for a while (in December 1928), Jehangir never told me if he statue-posed. But what’s clear from his diary is that in 1927, when he was 20, after some training at a Southern Command centre, he was a physical training instructor at Deccan College. A few months before he turned 20, he found he didn’t need glasses.
This was directly due to the letters he exchanged with Dr Bernarr MacFadden, the American “father of physical culture” had the course of eye exercises he was sent. He saw his restored eyesight not as a miracle, but proof. The seed of “natural healing” was planted.

4.Foam Bath; 5. An in-patient room.

Foam bath_Consultation room

6.(below) In his consultation room

In consultation roomTwo years later, Mehta started his Nature Cure Clinic “with a tap of cold water and a galvanized tub,” as his biographer Sundri P. Vaswani says. In those two years, despite an exciting trip abroad as one of the scoutmasters who led the Scouts of the Bombay Presidency to a world jamboree in Liverpool, Jehangir’s mental and physical health collapsed. He fell in love with a girl cousin, a doomed affair that preyed on his mind. In 1928, two bad attacks of influenza weakened his heart. When Mehta’s clinic opened in 1929, Jehangir, who had trained under him at his physiculture center, was one of its first patients. “October 31, 1929,” his diary entry read. “Treatment of fasting, milk diet, exercises under Dinshaw (sic) Mehta in Poona.”
It was a decision that was to change his life in more ways than one. Deeply impressed by Mehta’s personality and principles, he began to take Nature Cure seriously. In February 1931, he joined the clinic as a helper. The next year he was put in charge of the Bombay branch of the clinic, at Wassiamal Building, Grant Road. This was the beginning of an on-off relationship. He was asked to manage the Poona clinic in 1934, then the Bombay clinic again in 1935. There was never enough money; payments from the main clinic were erratic. In terrible turmoil, on April 1, 1935, Jehangir resigned. Mehta is reported to have wept at the news.
Six months later, Jehangir married Mehta?s sister Mehera whom he’d met in Poona but got to know better during a tiger shoot in Sinhaghad. Surprisingly, he took charge of the Grant Road clinic in Bombay again. Mehera helped. They lived in Dadar.

But the old problem of payments recurred. Jehangir?s need to break away, to With patientmake it on his own, intensified. Exactly a year after they got married, they left Bombay to study at the Davidson College of Natural Therapeutics, Newcastle Upon Tyne, he for a triple-barrelled ND, DO, DC (Doctor of Naturopathy, Doctory of Osteopathy, Doctor of Chiropractic), she for a diploma in massage. Part of his expenses was covered by Wadia Charities, hers by the Tatas and Jehangir’s mother Aimai.

Photo,right: With one of his favourite patients Gulestan Jussawalla on her 100th birthday

Jehangir was devoted to Aimai. There’s little doubt that without her courage and strength of character, she couldn?t have raised her four young sons on her own. After they left Lahore in 1914, she was, in every sense of the term, a single mother, having abandoned her husband Merwanji to his reckless, spendthrift ways.
Jehangir was a dedicated vegetarian; he wrote books, pamphlets and articles on the subject and firmly believed, despite skepticism in his family, that being a vegetarian was necessary for one’s spiritual growth. I remember him having chicken when we lived at the clinic. That went, sometime in the ?50s, I think. A little later went eggs.
Cooking for Jehangir, with his strict dietary compartments – no potatoes with rice, no fried food – was a thankless task, especially since he showed no appreciation for the meals Mehera made for him, in the beginning with the help of a cook, later on her own.
I don?t remember any lunches with Jehangir when we lived at the clinic. He was always so busy he probably skipped them or ate on his own when he was relatively free of his patients. Dinner came from the clinic’s kitchen, a little different, I imagine, for the family from what the in-patients got.
But after we moved to a flat not far from the clinic, at Warden Road, in a building constructed by Jehangir’s elder brother Savak – finally a place of Dhanvantari awardher own for Mehera, who longed for it – there was no question of lunches with or for Jehangir. A home-cooked dabba (tiffin) was impossible since he usually left by six in the morning, sometimes by 5.30. So he had lunch by himself at his clinic. The lunches were sparse: nuts, dates, dahi or lassi, sometimes cornflakes and milk and always, during the mango season, mangoes and milk. Milk was an essential part of his diet. He never stopped talking about the wholesomeness of milk or the benefits of a milk diet.

With the Dhanvantari Award, 1989

The milk diets fattened his underweight patients. They didn?t fatten a skinny me or Firdausi. When surgeons cut open his flesh after he fell at his clinic, to pin together a femur which had shattered, they were amazed his bones were so strong. He was 85 then. “Milk!” was the bulb that went off simultaneously in Firdausi’s and my head. “They’re strong because of the milk!”
But milk also weakened his credentials in the eyes of skeptics and pill-swallowers, some of them relatives. They were used to stronger stuff. Jehangir didn’t touch tea, coffee, wine or spirits – his was a strict Brahminical regime. That, and his “natural” treatments, endeared him to some Congress leaders. Yusuf Meherally came to him “a dead man,” in Jehangir’s words, a terminal case too late to save. He spent six months at the clinic and died there.
Morarji Desai, whose fasts he sometimes supervised, was a good patient but difficult to like.
Jehangir admired Jawaharlal Nehru despite being roundly scolded by him once on account of Morarji. “You’re playing fast and loose with the CM’s life! You’re starving him!”  Nehru shouted on the grounds of a house in Juhu where Morarji was temporarily staying. Jehangir tried to explain that fasting wasn’t starving but that wasn’t necessary. Morarji arrived on the scene, his face glowing. He had gone for a brisk walk. Nehru relented.
Jehangir was scolded by Gandhiji too who sent for him occasionally when he was fasting. “Jussawalla, I don?t like this,” he said more than once. “Your clinic is for the rich. It should serve the poor.” And when Jehangir was preparing to leave for New York, to attend the golden jubilee conference of the American Naturopathic Association to which he had been invited, Gandhiji “wrote back in his typical Gujarati on a post card: ‘By going you are not helping India. Stay here and serve,’ ” Jehangir had reminisced in an interview with Hiren Bose, The Indian Post, October 9, 1989 (shortly after the news that he’d been awarded the Dhanvantari).
I can still recall the desolation I felt when the TWA plane, with Jehangir in it, lifted off the runway at Santa Cruz airport and disappeared into the grey monsoon skies. He was away for two months.
During that time the clinic suffered. So did Mehera whose efforts at beautifying the clinic, her only home at that time, weren’t always appreciated. She had an artist’s eye, she had spent some time in Santiniketan, and rather than be a masseuse in Jehangir’s clinic, for which she had been trained, she was its decorator and housekeeper.
She transformed the clinic’s waiting room from a dowdy box hung with photographs to an art gallery, hung with hand-painted Amrita Sher-Gils, done not by the artist herself, but by an itinerant artist who, in her compassionate way, she tried to help. I can recall several living faces under those Sher-Gils – Meena Kumari’s, Bapsy Sabavala’s, a grinning Tenzin Norgay’s after his conquest of Everest. But what I recall with the greatest pleasure are the screams of patients. We had a small dog who would allow those in the waiting room to pet him before biting them savagely.
Jehangir was on several committees, including the Health Panel of the Planning Commission but he wasn’t an ideal committee man. For one thing he didn’t like leaving his clinic for a minute unless it was for house calls. Meetings in New Delhi and Calcutta sometimes left him agitated for days. On one occasion, during a session of the working committee of indigenous systems he was surprised that the scholarly Dr Narasimha Rao refused to consider Nature Cure as an indigenous system of medicine. Rao was right. Strictly speaking, Nature Cure, as a drugless method of healing, began in Europe in the 18th century, developed in various ways in the next century and hit America at the century’s end. It was eagerly promoted there by John H. Kellog, MacFadden and Benedict Lust. India, with its hundreds of medical systems, was ready for one more. India was Nature Cure’s logical next step.
Jehangir has said so himself in his book The Key to Nature. At the same time he had to believe that Nature Cure came from our rishis.
Fad, humbug, quackery: Nature Cure, and Jehangir’s practice, have been called worse things in their time. The point is drugless systems of healing worked for him, and obviously for many of his patients. They worked for Mehera who, in 1957, was suspected of having a cancer; in her case the cure was Christian Science. They worked for Firdausi who was narrowlySpa, La Bourboule saved from an operation on one of his kidneys by Jehangir’s intervention. They worked for my wife Veronik whose jaundice went with the daily supply of paan and a powder Jehangir secretly obtained and delivered. And when I see the spa at Veronik?s hometown La Bourboule,(photo, right) with its scores of cubicles for hydrotherapeutic treatments and baths and its wonderful ambience, I?m reminded of the clinic and of how unrecognized systems of healing work.
They didn’t exactly work for me. Though I’m grateful to the mochi (cobbler) who put me into a deep curative sleep – I don’t think I’ve woken up fully – by chanting over me when I was bitten by a scorpion in Poona when I was two, I’m also grateful to the antibiotics which, because of Mehera’s insistence, got me through broncho-pneumonia when I was eight. It was Jehangir himself who told me, much later in my life, that they’d given me up.
In an interview with Ujwala Samarth of Debonair, Jehangir had said, “We had one Universal Health Institute, on Lamington Road, where I was the honorary director. There were ayurveds, homeopaths and allopaths, all working together. First the patients went through thorough examination. Then we would discuss the case, and if I said, ‘Look here, this is a case I can’t treat,’ the homeopath would say, ‘No, I will be able to do it.’ And he would treat the patient. We worked together, all of us. But that lasted only for a year.”
I’ve said Jehangir never had lunch with us after we moved to Warden Road but that isn’t strictly true. He did on Sundays. But very soon after lunch he’d leave to teach a group of blind students physiotherapy. He did this at the Victoria Memorial School for the Blind where he’d been made an honorary director in 1952. It was an activity very close to his heart. He was proud of those students who went on to become professional masseurs and greatly distressed when the physiotherapy department closed. He spent his Sunday afternoons writing, then. And taking sun-baths.
One of my most vivid memories of Jehangir is of him sitting on the west facing balcony outside his bedroom, bare-chested, his skin glowing in the sun. He seemed content, his eyes closed, moving his body almost imperceptively, basking in the sun, resigned to its healing.
He used to write at the clinic, he used to write at home. He wrote for many of the journals of his time, including The Illustrated Weekly of India, Eve’s Weekly and Kaiser-e-Hind. Between 1949, when he brought out his first pamphlet The Message of Nature Cure to Suffering Humanity to 1994, when he brought out his last book Nature’s Materia Medica he published more than 30 books and pamphlets, many for Jasu Shah’s Vegetarian Society to which he was committed.

In 1994, he was the sole medical worker in his clinic, still accepting very difficult cases for treatment and preparing to write three more volumes, one on teaching blind students physiotherapy, when he had a second fall. It broke his right thigh-bone. He never fully recovered from the operations that followed and, after a mild stroke, died on the morning of December 5, 1997. He was 90 years old.

Photo: Mehera with sons Adil and Firdausi
Meher and sonsDespite occasionally asserting that he’d never die, did he feel his age? The answer is Yes. In an unpublished note he gave me when he was 80, he wrote:
“Looking back from the high watchtower of old age on the past years of my life and all the complications of my paths, they seem to wind themselves sometimes on the brink of an abyss; but they lead against all expectation to the glorious heights of vocation and finally attain them, and I have every reason to praise the tender and wise ruling of providence, the more so as the paths which according to human ideas seemed to be sad and leading to death, showed to me and numberless others the opening to new life.”

© Adil Jussawalla