The Language of Illness, Contagion and Symptom Reporting

  • Mark Nichter
Part of the Culture, Illness, and Healing book series (CIHE, volume 15)


I spent the morning observing a rural clinic attended by a Harijan caste doctor hailing from the next district who had practiced in this district for the past two years as a government medical officer. I was particularly curious to see how he would interact with both Harijan and higher caste Shudra patients. While I was busy taking notes on the doctor’s meticulous display of purity, to the point of folding a white handkerchief on his chair before sitting, an agricultural laborer hobbled into the clinic and complained of having meenu kannu, literally fish eye. The doctor peered into his eyes which were inflamed, and pressed his index finger checking routine signs of anemia. Without an exchange of words, he then proceeded to write a prescription for eye drops. A B12 injection was administered and a packet of black ferrous sulfate tablets was given to the man with instructions as to dose, but no mention of the need to take them following meals. The patient thanked him, placed a few rupees on the table which was whisked away automatically, and proceeded to leave. There was something in the patient’s gait, the way he stumbled out of the office, which led me to strike up a conversation with him outside a chemist shop an hour later. Meenu kannu, it turned out, was a deep abscess (pitted keratolysis) in the sole of the foot caused by stepping on sharp rocks while carrying a heavy headload of wood or other material.


Herpes Zoster Whooping Cough Illness Category Spirit Possession Illness Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mark Nichter
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyThe University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

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