A potato a day kept the doctor away for years

Okay, so this one slipped through the cracks. My apologies to PARI readers and viewers. All PARI followers know by heart our top chartbuster: The Potato Song.  That came from a group of five girls aged between 8 and 11 at a tiny Tribal Development  Project school (Classes 1-4) in Kerala’s most remote and only tribal panchayat: Edamalakudi in the Idukki Hills.

The eight of us who’d landed up there had asked the students what their favourite subject was. “English” they said in a region where we found not a single word in that language on any signboard.  Challenged to demonstrate their grasp of English, they burst into song.

That became an all-time PARI favourite. But there was something we left out and we bring it to you now.  After the girls gave  us a perfect rendition of the ‘Potato Song’, we turned our scrutiny to the boys. They had been outclassed, we implied, as we  demanded they respond and show us their English.

They knew the girl quintet was a hard act to follow, but went at it gamely. In quality of singing, or rather, presentation, they were no match for the girls. But for sheer craziness of lyric, they stood alone.

The girls had sung an ode to a potato, which they don’t eat, in a village where no English is spoken.  The boys sang (or recited) one to a doctor. (There had been no full-time medico in the primary health centre there for over a decade). As in much of India, rural and urban, ‘doctor’ is used interchangeably to denote both physicians and surgeons. Often, they’re seen as the same person. Also reflected in the ode was a touching faith in modern allopathic medical science.

Good morning, doctor,

My stomach is paining, doctor

My stomach is paining, doctor

Hold me, doctor

Hold me, doctor

Hold me, doctor

Operation

Operation

Operation, doctor

Thank you, doctor

Thank you, doctor

Thank you, doctor

Bye bye, doctor

Bye bye, doctor

Bye bye, doctor

Bye bye, doctor

Like the legendary ‘Potato Song’, this little film too was shot by PARI’s tech editor Siddharth Adelkar on a cell phone with no network, in a place where no potato is grown or eaten, in a village where no English is spoken, and in a panchayat where doctors have long been absent. But, well – it’s how English is taught in much of the country. And we still have no clue where both groups got their lyrics from in one of the loneliest and remotest panchayats in peninsular India.

Originally published on PARI