R. G. Kar – Calcutta’s Lion Hearted Doctor
Calcutta’s Medical history goes a long way. Prasanta Pal shares the story of doctor, nay, Messiah of Bengal, R. G. Kar, who devoted his life to reach succour to the poor and the needy and whose tale of sacrifice has mostly gone unreported.
The year was either 1904 or 1905; the scene was undivided Bengal and one of the much-frequented garish Calcutta pavements in front of a reputed marriage house.
A medium-dressed man in his late 30s, having a gait that would surely impress the onlookers, had quietly positioned himself right before the main entrance of the imposing citadel that bore the distinct flavour of artistic decoration.
There was every chance of confusing this apparently handsome young man as one of the invitees; he was, of course, not one though.
As afternoon gradually dragged into evening, guests dressed in variegated attire began to trickle in. But everyone was struck by the strange posture of the man.
Armed with a simple rustic bowl, the fellow was approaching every guest for a little donation.
When prodded with a query, he would only reveal that he intended to build a hospital for the poor and the underprivileged in Calcutta.
Some exchanged a smile or two, but smartly avoided it; some slid their hands into the purse and dropped a few coins while some chose to make wry comments and went in.
The man remained nonchalant, giving cursory glances occasionally at the bowl till one of the visitors suddenly made a sort of uncalled-for outburst.
“Daktarbabu, aapni? (Dear Doctor, how come you are here?)” – the visitor’s outburst created a stir as several guests trooped out in a hurry, including those who, a couple of minutes back, let out frivolous remarks.
But, before the visitor could explain anything to the guests, something occurred to him and he left the place in a tearing hurry.
The shehnai resumed as usual and everyone forgot about him.
Delving into the past
It was the day of convocation at the Calcutta Medical College in 1883; a student was being specially felicitated for winning the gold medal in the MBBS examination, for, he would shortly embark on his maiden voyage to London in pursuit of an MRCP degree.
Hailing from a very mediocre family, the student, now an MRCP, returned four years later to India and plunged into medical practice.
His unequivocal vow was, however, unlike other doctors; the then undivided Bengal bereft of proper development in medical facilities was reeling under malnutrition and poverty.
He vowed not to charge any fees from the poor and distribute as much medicine freely as possible.
A few years later, Calcutta and the adjacent region had begun to be haunted by a horrendous plague that soon assumed epidemic proportions.
At a time when medical care and assistance were the need of the hour (a rare commodity then), the MRCP doctor travelled day and night to the stricken areas without any fear, risking his life.
Except for one lion’s heart, he hardly received any volunteer who would betray his or her unflinching dedication to serve the suffering humanity.
The lion heart who worked shoulder to shoulder, day and night with the doctor, is none other than our own Sister Nivedita.
The doctor, despite endeavouring his heart and soul to reach succour to the afflicted, couldn’t save many. His vow grew stronger.
The atmosphere of the marriage house brimmed with excitement as it was almost time for the bridegroom to drop in; relatives of the bride threw a sort of cordon around the main entrance.
The car of the groom finally inched to the gate amidst the blowing of conch shells. The groom disembarked and the ritual followed.
As the groom was appreciating the floral decoration around, his eyes suddenly fell on the man with the bowl. The groom stood frozen!
“Sir, Oh my god, what are you doing here with that bowl?” the groom rushed towards him and straightway knelt in front.
A pall of awe, amazement, and silence descended for a moment as the man helped the groom stand up with a mild rebuke.
But the groom wouldn’t listen; he took out his pair of gold chains and dropped them into the bowl as tears ran down his cheeks.
“Meet my doctor, meet my saviour; meet the man who saved my mother from the deadly plague,” shouted the groom, leaving everyone stunned.
The rest is history; a kind of melee followed as the guests and relatives of the bride and groom thronged in front of the doctor to donate as much as they could.
Even as the people tried in vain to get over their spell of awe and shock, the groom introduced the doctor as Radha Gobinda Kar who had launched a mission to build a private hospital for the needy and the poor.
The success of the Mission
However, it was not until a couple of years till his mission achieved success. Albert Victor College and Hospital, the maiden private medical enterprise in India, finally came into being at Belgachia in the northeastern part of Calcutta.
But sadly, a deadly influenza struck the Renaissance man who left for his heavenly abode on 18th December 1918.
Nevertheless, before his death, he willed his movable and immovable property in favour of the hospital.
It was left to another worthy son as well as a doctor of Bengal – Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy — to rechristen the hospital and inaugurate it in 1948, a year after the Indian Independence.
And the rechristened hospital is none other than the famous R G Kar Medical College and Hospital, Calcutta.
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The author has served no less than Al Jazeera and German TV, and India’s Parliamentarian magazine among others! To his credit goes a deep-rooted empathy for social issues and humans. He has wide experience in covering the northeast of India. His coverage on the 2020 Amphan cyclone in eastern India has easily been the best around the world
Really feeling excited to know about such a great personality and his service towards nation.. Salute him for deep heart for his such great nature.