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VOL. XXIV NO. 14, November 1-15, 2014
Madras Medical College, 73 years ago – as recalled by Dr. S. Ramaswamy – a 1941 batch student of MMC – Professor of Anatomy (Retd).
Studying during those 'Quit India' days

(Continued from last fortnight)

The examinations arrived in Physiology practical. I had the fortune of having to face Dr. B.T. Krishnan and Dr. Neogy and in the viva voce Dr. Bashir and Dr. Tilang. Dr. BTK, examined me in Biochemistry and Dr. Neogy in experimental physiology which was a demonstration of muscle contraction (a muscle nerve experiment). Dr. Neogy was more a Biochemisty-oriented examiner and similarly BTK was a more Physiology-oriented examiner. So it was an easy passage through the practicals.

Dr. Bashir had a reputation of being a very tough examiner. He used to ask what the steps were involved in coagulation of blood. If, for instance, there were ten steps and the candidate answered only nine, he would say, “Tell me the tenth so that I can give you a pass.” He asked me about the digestion of milk. I came to ‘Ornithine’. He asked me, “What is Ornithine, Mister?” I blurted out “enzymes.” He did not dismiss me straightaway and waited without comment for me to continue. I said “Citrulline”. He smiled and asked, “Is Citrulline also an enzyme, Mister?” I quickly corrected my previous answer. And he passed me.

For the Anatomy practical, the dissection question was digastric triangle. I completed the dissection in 45 minutes. The examiners, Dr. U.V. Naik (our professor and Head of the Anatomy Department) and Dr. Y. Appaji, a very tough examiner from Mysore, came up to me and observed that I was idling. Dr. Naik asked me “Have you finished?”. Hesitatingly I answered, “Not yet”. He said, “You seem to have finished” and asked me to identify the structures and questioned me on them. Since they had plenty of time at their disposal, his examination was exhaustive, covering a wide range of structures related to the dissection. After he finished, Dr. Appaji asked me, “Do you know of any other gland in the body which is divided into two parts by a muscle (as the submandibular salivary gland in the present dissection)?” “He would have gone on and on, but Dr. Naik interrupted and said, “I have questioned him enough, let him go.”

Though I did not get any significant rank, I passed and that itself was an achievement, taking into account the filtering that used to take place at each stage which required clearing all the subjects before passing on to the next stage. Pre-registration subjects had to be cleared before commencing I MB class, and Organic Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology had to be passed to go to II MB, and Pharmacology, Hygiene, Opthalmology and Pathology (in which Bacteriology was included) had to be passed before entering the final MB.

The thrill of walking around the hospital wards and corridors with a dangling stethoscope just cannot be described. The feeling was one of being a ‘doctor’ already, but it soon faded a bit with the rigours of courses.

The first three months were thorougly enjoyable, a very care-free period with no immediate examination in the offing after the preclinical hurdle.

My first posting was in the surgical wards under Dr. Visvanatha Menon, a brilliant surgeon. It was a pleasure watching him operate. Dr. Sakuntala Karamchand, Dr. Rangachari, Dr. Srinivasachari and Dr. Suneetha were his assistants. Each final year student was assigned a third year student (I clinical year) to guide and help him/her. It was a common whispering campaign, justified and unjustified, that alleged that the clinics by the Chief would be at a peak when all the women students were present.

Meanwhile, I was continuing my efforts to get a place in the college cricket team. I do not remember the name of the captain – perhaps it was Gnanaolivu. During the pre-registration course I had attracted attention by taking 7 wickets as a fast bowler for the Sri Venkata Vilas Cricket Club against the RBCC School. The club was in Gream’s Road, Nungambakkam. I did not progress much farther except for being 12th man for a match which was held in the YMCA grounds in Saidapet. During preclinical years I had to be content playing for the ‘B’ team. Bryan Shortt was the College captain then. He was known for his sixes and as a brilliant hockey player. He was a classmate of mine by ‘overlap’, seniors belonging to the April batch attending some classes with the December batch. My ‘pestering’ him (during the Bacteriology and Pathology classes) was of no avail!

In 1944, Kasturba Gandhi, who was also in prison with Mahatma Gandhi after his ‘Quit India’ call, was ill and penicillin which had just made its appearance in England was flown to India for her treatment. But she succumbed to her illness. The agitation all over India continued and the hostels being closed, students had to find residence elsewhere. There was famine in Bengal with thousands dying. In Madras, the Madras Student Organisation, a Communist-oriented one, organised a delegation of medical students of Ill year to Final year, i.e. II MB and final MB students, to go to Bengal for medical relief work among the villagers.

Leading the team were Dr. S.A. Kabir, a very prominent participant at the time in the ‘Quit India’ demonstrations in the College, and Dr. E. Balakrishnan, a ‘hard core’ Communist and a member of the Communist Party. We travelled to Calcutta where we were allotted to various relief ‘camps’. A final year student, Kaliappan, and I went to Mithapukur village in 24 Parganas District, a couple of miles from Budge Budge station, which had to be reached on foot. The relief camp was a small school building. A Sikh doctor was in charge.

Calls of nature had to be answered in an open field adjoining the site and a tank nearby was where we had to bathe, wash clothes, and take water for drinking (after boiling it). A young man, Sunil Mukherji, was assigned as translator. He was a very pleasant person from whom I learnt two Bengali songs, popular at the time. It took a few days to get acclimatised to the rural life. But Kaliappan could not handle the inconvenience and left in a very short time.

There was suddenly a demand for urgent medical relief in a neighbouring village, about five miles away, and we were asked to go there. Sunil and I trekked to that place every day, leaving early in the morning and returning in the evening passing through forest-like terrain – returning before dark to avoid large black scorpions. The Sardarji, in charge of the centre, was very happy with the work I did and gave me a testimonial which I still cherish. This additional work was done for ten days at the end of the six weeks that I had been assigned for relief work.

Back in Madras, the third year course continued from July 1944 and I stayed in the IOA. as before. The clinical postings in the wards went on as usual and I had the unique opportunity of being posted in Col. McRoberts’ (Superintendent of G.H.) unit to which Dr. S.K. Sundaram, a physician of high repute and a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi, was attached. Dr. Sundaram wore only khadi. This was the time of the ‘Quit India’ movement, but Col. McRoberts and Dr. SKS had great respect towards each other, though one was an Englishman and the other khadi wearer.

A much looked forward to annual function was scheduled during this period and much effort was put into organising the entertainment. When the function started precisely on time, the hall was full. As soon as Dr. Govinda Reddy came on the stage, the whole hall started reverberating with ‘Down-Down...” and there was no chance for the entertainment to commence. Dr. Reddy called off the programme and the function came to an abrupt close to the disappointment of all those not involved in the shouting and yelling. The country was still in the grip of the ‘Quit India’ mood. Peace prevailed thereafter and there were no untoward incidents during the rest of the year.

When the academic course commenced, there was no pressure of examinations as the University examination in December 1944 was to be only on one subject, Pharmacology. Lectures on Medicine were taken by Dr. Thambiah, father of the renowned dermatologist, Dr. Arthur Thambiah, my classmate, Dr. Subramania Iyer on Hygiene, Dr. D. Govinda Reddy on Pathology (he was also Warden of the Madras Medical College hostel then located at Kelly’s but which had been vacated by the students in protest against the Government order prohibiting hoisting the Tricolour in the hostel campus), Dr. Narayana Rao on Bacteriology (now called Microbiology) and Dr. Bala Sundaravadanam on Surgery. Dr. B.T. Krishnan, Professor of Physiology, had taken over the Principalship from Dr. A.L. Mudaliar. But in the context of the political situation at the time and the compulsion to adhere to the then Government rules, both Dr T. Krishnan and Dr. Govinda Reddy were not popular with the students.

(To be continued)

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In this issue

The sad state of our roads
Madras Landmarks - 50 years ago
Welcome sensitising of temple restorers
The early days of the I.A.S.
Madras beginnings of Hindi Prachar
Trying to save Jerdon's Courser
Advertising goes outdoors
Answering the need of the hour?
Studying during those 'Quit India' days

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Readers Write
Quizzin' With Ram'nan
Dates for Your Diary


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