Ministering to the sick makes the best practitioners of medicine ponder on the frailties of human conditions. The1ast century has seen writers of the stature of Dr. Axel Month, Frantz Far ion. And Carlo Levi from the continent. All they were intensely involved with the human condition. I have no doubt in laying claim to t)r CK. Ramachandran belonging to this tradition of humanistic doctors. In being that, he becomes “a contemporary not only of limitless contemporaries but, in actual deeds, of the new men, the little nine, the obscure men with whom he had the good luck to live, mature, and achieve self-knowledge.
In his preface, Dr. C.K. Ramachandran recounts an encounter with Sir land Hill, Physician to the Queen of England. To the latter’s quarry on the birds of India, my
friend for the past few decades could come up with only 6 or 7, whereas Sir Hill’s knowledge extended to 270. Definitely the humming bird would have featured in the list. For in this unerring talent to extract the nectar from any subject, nimble wit and felicity of expression, Dr. CKR most resembles this amazing bird which can hover, fly up, down or side ways. Similarly Dr. CKR traverses an astounding period of time from Vedic past to modern-day AIDS, straddles civilization from Chinese, Dravidian, Greek, Arab to latter-day Europe.
Such wide-ranging interests probably come easily to a mind weaned on traditional Ayurvedic and Sanskrit schooling. One can envision the doctor in his childhood, surrounded by objects of spiritual veneration and traditional art forms in preparation for a lifetime of learning. Probably this secure grounding in our own culture has made him immune to being swept away by immense forces of various schools of thought the good doctor has ridden. Whether it be abstract philosophy, arcane Vedanta, branches of medicine, lives of saints, religious writings or pen-portraits, he displays the sure footedness of a funambulist and dexterity of a juggler.
As kindly acknowledged by the author, I can claim some satisfaction in having inspired the compilation of the articles written by Dr. CKR. It is the bane of such busy souls as the doctor, that their scattered writings which adorn various fields of knowledge, are not preserved for posterity. As a keen follower of his thoughts the least I could have done was to ensure their publication as a book. Hence penning these lines becomes a doubly rewarding task. Our relationship goes beyond words and it would be a transgression of our deeply held friendship if I were to dwell on it here.
Ministering to the sick makes the best practitioners of medicine ponder on the frailties of human conditions. The last century has seen writers of the stature of Dr. Axel Munthe, Frantz Fanon and Carlo Levi from the continent. All of them were intensely involved with the human condition. I have no doubt in laying claim to Dr. C.K. Ramachandran belonging to this tradition of humanistic doctors. In being that, he becomes “a contemporary not only of limitless contemporaries but, in actual deeds, of the new men, the little men, the obscure men with whom he had the good luck to live, mature, and achieve self- knowledge.” (Carlo Levi - ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’).
The course of any man’s life is decided both by inherent tendencies, and circumstances of his existence. I was born into a family that had traditionally taken up Ayurveda as a profession and learning of Sanskrit as a pursuit. At home, during my childhood, on weekends and holidays, my father organized informal discussions with Ayurvedic physicians, Sanskrit scholars, traditional architects and astrologers. Apart from this, he used to organize religious discourses in the family temple. For all these cultural activities, my father would ensure the presence and participation of his children. This not only inculcated in us a strong awareness of community concerns, but also kept us abreast of social trends of those days.
During my school days, a Sanskrit teacher named Paappu Asaan had been entrusted with the task of teaching us the language. When we reached standard IV we commenced the learning of classical music from Subhadra & Eswari, daughters of the then well-known classical musician Pomblasseri Govinda Menon. Later on, I was taught music by T.V. Gopalakrishnan’s father, Viswanatha Iyer; but my music lessons had to be given up when I reached higher classes.
On completion of SSLC, the traditional family responsibility of taking up the study of Ayurveda fell upon me, as my elder brother, C.K Gopalakrishnan had already joined Madras Medical College. I initially joined the Vaidya Sastri School in Paravur for a three year course. After one year, the thatched sheds of our school, were blown down in a storm and we were shifted to a couple of rooms in the Sanskrit School nearby, run by the same management. That is where I had the good fortune to come in constant contact with Dr. P.R. Sastry, the manager of the Sanskrit School. He enrolled very poor students almost forcibly, to give them a Sanskrit education, so that armed with a Sastri Certificate; these students could earn a meagre living as sanskrit munshis. Dr. P.R. Sastry’s endeavour was to somehow run the school so that it would later on provide a source of livelihood to the poor students. He also conducted classes at night in Homeopathy and there were several students who acquired proficiency in this branch of medicine. Apart from this, during weekends, he took classes in Ayurvea for traditional vaidyas. In spite of hardships, the students and teachers were very happy in the dilapidated building which had hardly half a dozen rooms. In each room, the pictures of Christ, Ramakrjshna Paramahamsa, Vivekananda, Sri Narayana Guru, Buddha, Vardhamana Mahavira, Mahatma Gandhi and other such great personalities were put up along with sayings from the Holy Urban, the Gita, Rigveda, Upanishads etc. Today I can recall clearly the impact made on our young minds by this display on the school walls. Apart from this, artistes of Paathakam, Koothu, Ottan Thullal and the like were brought to the school to put up performances for our benefit. I also remember a doctor with MBBS qualification, a rarity in Paravur those days, coming to take one or two classes to give us an idea of modern medicine. All in all, the atmosphere in the school encouraged and enthused us no end to pursue learning with zest. It gives me much pleasure to say that this humble institution today stands proudly in Paravur, with Dr. Sastry’s statue in front, as a Sanskrit High School with more than two thousand students. He was a true Gandhian and freedom fighter and the only purpose of his life was to promote Sanskrit and Ayurveda. However in my mind’s eye the old school assumes the image of a deemed university spreading knowledge and imparting wisdom to all who enter its portals. After three years in this school, I proceeded to Trivandrum for the five year Vaidyakalanidhi course at the Government Ayurveda College there, which I could complete in two years because of the foundation course at Paravur.
It was at that unique abode of learning in Paravur that the idea to acquire an MBBS degree, after completion of Vaidyakalanicihi course, first took shape in my mind. That is how I went to Madras to join the Stanley Medical College and from there proceeded to UK for postgraduate specialization. It was in UK at the Dundee Royal Infirmary that I had occasion to work under another unforgettable personality, Sir Ian Hill, Physician to the Queen of England. He had worked for two and a half years at the Lucknow Leprosy Hospital during the Second World War and was therefore no stranger to India and Indians. He had acquired fair knowledge of Vedas and Upanishads during his time in India and he used to corner me often to clarify certain doubts. At that point of time, my knowledge of Vedas and Upanishads was restricted to what I had picked up while learning Ayurveda and I could manage to satisfactorily answer only some of his queries. One day, Sir Ian Hill asked me what I knew about the birds of India. After much deliberation, I could sketchily describe just 6 or 7 birds, commonly found in India. That is when I came to know that during the two year he had spent in India, Sir Ian Hill had written a book on 270 odd birds of India. His was a remarkable personality, combining the wisdom of a sage and benevolence of a lord which left a lasting impression on me. I always found in him an inspiring teacher, both at the graduate and post graduate levels.
From there, I went to the University College Hospital, in London where I joined as Registrar under Prof. Wood roof, the Head of Tropical Medicine. He was known to be strict and short tempered. His first Assistant, Stanley Bell, had warned me about his predilections, but I was able to win his approval before long. One day Prof. Wood roof asked me to name the six highest peaks of the Himalayas, in the descending order. I was dumbfounded and when I mumbled my inability, he rattled off the names of the peaks. Similarly, on another occasion, he asked me about the position of certain important stars in the night sky. I was again nonplussed and he then quickly apprised me of the exact astral position of these heavenly bodies. His favorite pastime was to go fishing, with a Spanish friend, in the rivers of the Iberian Peninsula, for a week. Perhaps, while waiting for the fish to bite, he would look up at the sky to confirm the position of the stars! Another day, an Indian patient was admitted in my ward, who knew only Hindi, with which language I did not even have a nodding acquaintance. When we both Indians were struggling to surmount the communication barrier, Prof. Woodruff came to our aid with his fluent knowledge of Hindi, picked up while working with Indians in Kenya earlier. It is only when we come into contact with persons of such caliber that we realize our meager capabilities and ignorance.
While working under Prof. Woodruff, as I was able to acquire MRCP from all three Royal Colleges in the UK, I was earmarked by him to take classes for the DTM and H (Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene) students of London School of Tropical Medicine. The classes were conducted at the Burroughs Welcome Museum for 56 students in two batches from 27 countries, including a few Senior Health Officials of various Governments. While teaching them, I discovered that spicing up the lectures with relevant historical background, as Sir Ian Hill used to do, was much appreciated by the students. Similarly, while taking clinical medicine in the Hospital, twice a week, quick digression into the history of medicine generated much interest. Having picked up this professorial habit, I maintained it after joining as a staff member of Calcutta Medical College. This was perhaps the reason why my interest in the historical beginnings of medicine and its progress over the centuries developed into a passion with me, taking my research further afield into the world of holy books like the Duran, Bible, Vedas and Upanishads. My enquiries and investigations also carried me into the ennobling lives of great sages and learned savants. It was this fascination that created in me a great desire to delve deeper into metaphysics. The sum total of all these efforts are the sixty articles published at varying times in different media but brought together for the first time in a book form.
How such outpourings on disparate topics and themes were converted into this form is another story. The Chairman and Managing Director of Mathrubhoomi, the very popular, malayalam newspaper, and a well known author in his own right, Sri M.P. Virendra Kumar, walked into my study one day. After looking at the books on the shelves, he asked me where the articles I had written over the last few decades had been kept. I could lay my hands only on a few of them, as the majority were lying here and there in almost forgotten places. He sent an editorial assistant to search, select and segregate the articles. If Sri Veerendra Kumar had not taken such a avid personal interest in the matter, all these articles would still be lying in forgotten corners, gathering dust. I am therefore truly indebted to him. I am also thankful to my daughters Sethulakshflhl and Sulekha who put together all the torn and tattered pages, retyped them and brought them into a readable format. My thanks are also due to my good friend, Col. Gopinath, who edited, arranged and systematised the entire collection. I am grateful to that doyen among artists, the famous artist Namboodiri, whose drawings have brought to life the contents of each separate segment. My gratitude to all of them cannot be easily expressed.
It is against this background that I now humbly offer this collection of my writings to you my dear readers.
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