City Obituary – Dr. Prem Bhuttan, Old Delhi
Death of a living landmark.
[Text and photo by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The notices in Hindi, Urdu and English are taped on the shutters: “Dr. Prem Bhuttan has died. Shop closed.”
The shop refers to the clinic.
A living landmark of Old Delhi’s Chitli Qabar Bazar, Dr. Bhuttan, born in pre-Partition Multan, passed away on Tuesday morning, aged 80, at his home in Gagan Vihar. The Walled City dwellers knew him more intimately as Prem patti wale, for his was a first aid clinic, where he would dress the wounds with patti, or bandage. The doctor had been bandaging Old Delhi folks for decades. He started to sit in the clinic when he was 17, and would then assist his father, the late Dr Prakash, who was also the clinic’s founder. On any given day, Dr. Bhuttan’s clinic would be crowded with people needing attention for their wounds, or boils such as “phore-funsi.” He was acknowledged in the historic quarter for his skills with common burn injuries. The doctor’s calm face would be visible to all the passers-by on the market street. A painted board played a poetic pun on his first name, which means love: “Here, Prem is dressing the wounds with prem.” (See photo, taken last year).
Indeed, generations of Old Delhi wale who have passed under Dr. Bhuttan’s healing touch will recall the line he always uttered dressing their wound—“Allahu shafi, Allahu kafi, prem ki do patti hi kaafi (… Prem’s two bandages are enough).” Homemaker Mehvash Sattar, of nearby Pahari Imli, vividly recalls the long-ago afternoon when she fell off a stage in her school. Her mother took her to “Prem patti wale,” who sang his famous line playfully clicking his thumb to distract the little girl, while applying balm on the bleeding knee.
For a long time, Dr. Bhuttan lived just behind the clinic, but the family home moved out of the increasingly congested Walled City in 1996. The doctor started commuting to the clinic in an auto rickshaw.
This evening, on the day following his death, a pavement hawker of clothes is sitting right in front of the clinic’s shutters, heatedly arguing with a shopper. As always, the street is full of cheery bustle. Dr. Bhuttan is survived by seven grandchildren, two daughters (his son passed away a few years ago) and by his wife, Veena, who assisted him in the clinic all these years, and hopes to carry on with the legacy.