Dread of the dentist’s chair : The Tribune India

Raaja Bhasin

As a child, I had crooked teeth. An emphatic ‘no’ to an older-day version of dental braces that resembled a cross between handcuffs and a metal straitjacket have resulted in those wobbly ridges and gullies following me to adulthood. Now, when one smiles, there is the great fear that this will resemble a wolfish snarl or the grin of a lowly scavenger who has sighted his prey.

Dr KN Sharma, Shimla’s well-known dentist, was my father’s friend and his manner and timing were stopwatch-precise. If you were late for an appointment, you would have to take another time and date. His clinic was on the first floor and the two huge dentists’ chairs faced a couple of magnificent horse-chestnut trees. With each season and inspection of cavities and comments on poor brushing, those trees would change. From the bare branches of winter, fresh soft, slim green leaves would appear in spring and would be accompanied by spikes of feathery flowers. Through the monsoons, the tree would reach its grand fullness and its fruit, ‘conkers’, would spill on the road to be scooped up by us children. In autumn, the leaves would take on sunset shades. The distraction they provided helped survive the dentist’s chair, the syringe and the probe.

There was, expectedly, no television in the waiting room and mobile phones were a dream of the future. No one stared vacuously at a screen with the volume turned off and no one delved shallow or deep into the mysteries of WhatsApp wisdom. Instead, there were magazines that belonged to an age now long gone. Not just here at the dentist’s, but also in almost every waiting room there would be old copies of Dharamyug in Hindi, and Reader’s Digest and the Illustrated Weekly in English. For some unfathomable reason, almost all these antechambers had a slew of publications from the now dismembered Soviet Union and we boys would flip through the pages of Sputnik while the girls waded through Soviet Woman.

Further down the road was another dentist; the name of Dr Sawdey would come to strike terror in every childhood wrongdoer. His signboard, just below the nameplate, had the notice, ‘If bell not working, knock hard’. Dutifully, every passing boy would hammer away at the door and run off. Then the day came when Dr Sawdey decided to forego his regularly interrupted afternoon nap and lay in wait behind a signboard across the street. The first boy was ambushed as he went to ‘knock hard’ and was subjected to a display of the dentist’s most lethal-looking instruments.

The knocks on the door stopped. The leaves fell off the chestnut trees. Both the dentists moved on to another world, and yet another story walked over Shimla’s Mall.


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