|About a month ago, you may recall, I broke a tooth. Half of the facia of a back molar has been missing ever since. Luckily it hasn't hurt at all, so it's not been the travel catastrophe it might. In fact, India could just about be the best place for it to happen.
A couple of doors from the Gokarna bus station Dr Sooraj Nayak runs the Prema Dental Clinic and Lab. I know this because it says so on the many cards he gave me, in case you are having problems with your teeth.
The day I arrived here the roller shutter was down. I returned the next morning but a pair of sandals at the entrance indicated he had a patient. I went to the bus stand to look for an English paper and had no luck there either. I ran into a Dutchman I had met a few days earlier and we chatted for an hour until his bus arrived. I really don't know what's happening. Since when did you ever wait an hour for a bus anywhere in India? Is this progress?
This time the good dentist's door was ajar.
I stuck my head in.
"Do I need to make an appointment?"
"Sit down" he commanded with all the finesse of the Indian compere of "Deal or No Deal".
I mentioned that he had treated me two years ago but it didn't seem to ring any bells. He doesn't take your name or any history, so record keeping must be difficult.
"What's the problem?" He'd started drilling before asking the question. At least, I think it was a drill. There was no explanation of the process either. I braced myself, as last time the device had become much hotter than I'm used to. Not that I visit the dentist often but we humans seem to have pretty good recall for oral intervention, don't we?
I remember "the surgery" from last time. It hadn't changed. The chair looks pretty much like a dentist's chair anywhere. Just ignore the cobwebs and gaffer tape which appear to be holding the light onto that arm which rotates to direct light into your mouth.
Dental surgeries in Australia are all stainless steel and aseptic protocol. They look like operating theatres which is what I suppose they are. If I squinted in this place I could have been in my A$2 a night "hotel" room. Painted concrete blocks, an unswept floor and a bin of medical waste completed the picture.
"I hear they burn it in Australia" I thought he was referring to the discaded cotton and rubber gloves I had just been staring at.
"An Australian gave them to me."
"3M make very good ones."
It turned out he meant a bagful of bandages that were past their sell by date. I wondered at how a bandage could expire and what had turned the conversation in this direction. It took my mind off the suspect hygiene. I mean, at least there were disposable gloves and wasn't that some sort of sterilising device they were getting the implements from?
His ten year old "assistant" in school uniform also stood out in my memory. He could never get that suction thing to properly remove the drool from my mouth. It looks like he's been replaced by an older youth and he device appears superceded by simply spitting a bit more often, when it's running down your chin. But possibly the same kid has graduated primary scool and just gone full time.
The drill didn't get hot at all. More progress!
"This is miracle fix" he said as he lined up the prospective tooth for treatment.
"Does it come in white?" I only managed to ask after it was applied.
"Only in black because the filling was amalgam."
I was relieved that my delay had made no difference.
An Israeli guy showed up at the still open surgery door.
"Where have you been?" the dentist looked annoyed.
It appeared my treatment had only come as a result of his tardiness.
"I'll finish this off very fast" he told him of my case.
This instilled even less confidence, if this was possible.
"How much will it cost?" I enquired, if a little late.
"300 rupees (A$7.50)"
"Do you want clean, scale and polish?"
In for a penny, in for a pound!
"Yep, sure, no worries."
"Come back in an hour."
"After the filling has set."
There were no instructions on whether to eat or drink but I supposed you shouldn't.
I duly returned in the nominated one hour to be told that the power was off and so was the clean and scale. I rather think that the Israeli and his crown were dictating proceedings. I went next door to the conveniently located optometrist. Maybe there was no professional on the premises but when I presented my script from home, he looked like he knew what it was and they definitely sold glasses. I ordered two pairs. Quite fashionable but you might think otherwise.
When I returned, the power was back and the Israeli gone. Half an hour later and I was told everything was ship shape in the oral department. I told him the dentist in Australia liked his last work and charged me A$200 to tell me so whilst providing absolutely no other service.
He was pretty impressed.
So was I.
An hour and a half at the dentist's and two pairs of prescription specs for forty Australian dollars.