Its the ideal haven for the politically stressed. And the beeline of vehicles, many of them flag cars bearing official number plates, is a veritable giveaway. Barely 150 km from Bombay lies Atmasantulana village in Karla, where political bigwigs of Maharashtra throng to find peace within themselves. Or to make peace among themselves. While the latter may be asking for too much, what stands proven is the efficacy of the treatment prescribed by Dr Balaji Tambe, the man at the helm of affairs at the Karla health centre.
Often called a doctor, Rotarian, arbitrator and guru, Tambe has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a part-time ayurved in Pune to a full-time healer at the Shri Balaji Health Foundation, a sprawling 13.2 acre getaway for the ailing. And today, Tambes influence has even spread across national boundaries.
The rich and the famous flock to him, particularly those suffering from arthritis and heart ailments. Tambes centre employs various methods of curing, including meditation and ghee and electric therapies. A.H. Divanji, managing director, Asia Foundations and Constructions Limited, says: "Though a lot of scepticism still exists about the ancient systems of medicine, the fact is that they work. It has worked for my wife and for me."
Though Tambe claims an almost 100 per cent success rate, the expenses involved deter many potential patients. The daily cost, which includes food and therapy but not lodgng, amounts to about Rs 500. One could spend anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 12,000 for a 15-day stay at Karla. "While diabetes, blood pressure and heat problems are more evident in the upper classes, kidney failure is common to both the upper and lower classes," observes Tambe.
The pain caused by political heartaches is another task that Tambe has to tackle often. Bal Thackeray and Sharad Pawar have been known to occupy two guest houses on the campus around the same time, and are said to have had negotiations across the centres dining tables. The last time they met was just before the demise of Meenatai Thackeray. "Sharad Pawar did stay with us for 12 days the last time he was here, but it was only for reasons of health. There have been times when their visits have coincided unexpectedly, but I dont think that they come here to make political deals," says Tambe, who denies rumours that Pawar suffers from throat cancer. "In my case, when we finish dinner, I leave them to speak and carry on with my work. I do not know what the conversation thereafter is all about. But I have often told Balasaheb, you want to god good, he also wants to do good. Why not start something together since your aim is the same?"
Doing good is what Tambe started out with. And his prescription is pretty simple hava, dava aur dua (fresh air, medicine and prayer). To him, the force out there is not Hindu. He categorically rejects the new saffron wave. "I have been asked by members of the VHP to join them, but I have refused. And because, I am neutral, have had Vilasrao Deshmukh, Sharad Pawar, Sadhvi Rithambara, Bal Thackeray and Rajmata of Gwalior sitting in the same room here."
He, however, is intolerant of godmen. "We do not have one honest and spiritual godman. There is an attempt to bring spirituality into politics, but that is like setting fire to water," says Tambe.
At present, he is focusing on expanding the facilities at the centre. On the cards are 20 cottages to accommodate patients. Besides, a jogging and walking track and a gymansium, Tambe feels, would greatly enhance the existing facilities comprising a newly opened diagnostic and healing centre, a pharmacy, a recording studio, and various therapy centres.
Tambe denies funding by any politician. "Most of the funds have been pouring in from the West and not from Sharad Pawar or Balasaheb as is widely believed," he says. However, Balasahebs presence is tangible at the centre. A huge poster pasted across an entire wall of Tambes office porch was gifted by the Shiv Sena supremo.
Besides politicians, film personalities also frequent the centre to improve their image. Among the prominent visitors are M.G. Maheswari, Nathubhai Ambani, Jackie Shroff, Reena Roy, Anu Malik and Anup Jalota. And though Amitabh Bachchan has never been to the centre, his car has been spotted there often to pick up health products.
With wife Veena Tambe, son Sunil, right-hand man Nirada Gaumann, who is a Swiss-turned Indian citizen, 30 foreigners and 10 Indians, Balaji Tambe has his hand firmly on the pulse of his patients.