Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Flying doctor

Unlike Dr. Guruswamy Mudaliar, his contemporary, Dr. Sarukkai Rangachari often treated his patients for free. In fact, there are stories about how he gave a poor fisherwoman Rs.100 to take care of herself and her newborn child, and also how he once gave a boy a coin a day when he was down with typhoid. (That boy went on to become a famous neurosurgeon, incidentally). That kind of generosity coupled with 'rare medical skill and boundless humanity' made sure his clinic 'Kingston', on Poonamallee High Road was always full of patients. He would start his day at 4 am, performing varied surgeries until 11 am, followed by the in- and out-patient clinics, after which he would make house calls. Often, his lunch was had in his car, a luxury he defended by saying that he practically lived in the vehicle, and so allowed himself the privilege of making it a nice home.

One of his students, Lt Col Dr C.R. Krishnaswami, recalls that Dr. Rangachari was blessed with a wonderful constitution, that "from 1906, when he started, till his death in 1934, it was continuous, strenuous work of up to 18 hours a day for Dr. S. Rangachari." That constitution could not, however, stand up to the rigours he placed upon it during the typhoid breakout of 1934. Fighting hard against the sweep of the epidemic, Dr. Rangachari pushed himself to even longer hours, reaching out to more patients than anyone else thought possible. And so, when the disease struck the doctor, he succumbed to it, passing away at the height of his powers and popularity. The public of Madras subscribed to a statue in honour of this surgeon, which was unveiled by Lord Erskine, Governor of Madras, in 1939. That statue still stands near the exit gate of the General Hospital, shaded by a cupola, a couple of hundred meters away from that of Dr. Guruswamy Mudaliar.

There was another significant difference between the two contemporaries; where Dr. Guruswamy was frugal, Dr. Rangachari was outwardly lavish - apart from using a Rolls Royce to travel within the city, he had his own private aircraft (in the early 1920s) to make house calls in cities other than Madras!


chorinchath said...

The Dr is really great!It should be an eye-opener for the young generation

Shantaram said...

@ Narayanan: Let's hope they look up to him, literally and figuratively!

Byravn Viswanathan. M.D. said...

Dr. Rangachari is one of my most favorite and admired men. I knew about him when I was just about 5 years old growing up and described to me by my mother. I knew how generous he was and displayed a deserving sense of self worth driving a Rolls not for show but for his own satisfaction and to show the ruling Brits that he could own their most prestigious car in the world. I went on to try and emulate him and graduated with 1963 and still in practice in the U.S.A. 55 years on. I couldn't even reach to his feet as a physician so I worship him.
Byravan Viswanathan. M.D., F.A.C.P.

Byravn Viswanathan. M.D. said...

My favorite doctor for all ages. I emulated him in a small way by becoming a doctor myself.