ANTULAY SAHIB

 

 

 

 

It is the 9th of February and mercifully a Sunday ; a day I needed to relax and recharge the batteries. A hectic week begins from tomorrow, I work in a new hospital some distance from my home, and I therefore need to look out for a flat. There are call duties; invariably some one lands up with a heart attack in the dead of the night; she or he needs urgent intervention; so its best to stay close to your hospital of work; a life depends to some extent upon you. I realised suddenly late in the afternoon as I lay in my bed that today is my Mom’s birth anniversary. I got with a start with tears in my eyes; how could I have forgotten it. I lost her in 1988; many years ago but her memories are deep and vivid. She always wanted me to be the best doctor, to be kind and humane to my patients. She presented me my first car (a Maruti 800) in 1985, as I was the apple of her eye. She was in the radio business and was reckoned as an institution in All India Radio.

 

But today is important also because of Antulay Sahib. Barrister Abdul Rehman Antulay Sahib was a senior leader of the Congress party; and was expectedly kept in deep freeze by the Old Party because of his abilities. The Grand Old Party has always ensured that people of talent particularly political intellect are ignored. I first came in contact with Antulay Sahib in a rather awkward manner, I had not heart of him much before March 1993. I vaguely knew that there was a politician with that name who had been chief minister of Maharashtra, but little beyond that. I was on the verge of finishing my rounds that fateful day when a trolley came crashing by accompanied by a young doctor. I was the chief of cardiology of Dr Ram Manohar Hospital then, the resident was yelling “serious case Sir, cardiac arrest .” I had just come out of the coronary care unit which had a basic cath lab in it. I rushed into the CCU along with the trolly carrying the patient. There was this man jumping up and down shouting “ where is the senior doctor?” I was young then and certainly did not look like a senior doctor leave aside the chief of the department. A cardiology resident was trying to explain to the officious appearing man that the senior doctor was standing right beside him. As for me I had no time to think, the patient was unconscious and did not appear to be breathing. I checked the pulse, the rate was dangerously low, less than 30 per minute. I had no idea who the patient was. I ordered the patient to wheeled into the cath lab; he was put on the table, and I inserted a temporary pacemaker without washing my hands or removing the tweed suit I was wearing. There was no time for anything. I was operating in a blur. The patient’s groin was not prepared or cleaned, bit the pacing lead was in position in the right ventricle apex in less than a minute. An Ambu bag was used for ventilation. I still remember the technician ( Mr B S Dagar), the nurse ( Ms. Vanita) and the doctor with me ( I won’t name him but he is currently the chairman of cardiology of Max Hospital, Saket). The patient was shifted to bed number 1 , he had a steady rhythm of 70 per minute courtesy the temporary pacemaker , spontaneous respiration was restored but he was still unconscious. Blood pressure was maintained by dopamine support.

 

Soon after all hell broke loose. The medical superintendent rushed to the CCU with the health minister ( M L Fotedar) and within minutes the prime minister was inside the CCU too. The parliament must have been in session and hence the quick entry of the PM and health minister. The chiefs of cardiology of AIIMS and G B pant too had been summoned. There was a little storm going on, a lot of extremely concerned and genuinely worried faces were hovering outside the cubicle housing bed number 1. I knew by then that the patient was Mr. A R Antulay, senior leader of the Congress. The big boys were discussing the next steps to be taken. The senior cardiologists from the 2 big institutions were consulted. I don’t know how or when it was decided to retain Antulay Sahib in my care. The prime minister turned to me and uttered just 2 words “ save him.”. Mr P V Narasimhan Rao was obviously a man of few words, in fact very few words. The man, remarkably had been asleep as union home minister when the Sikhs got massacred in 1984 and again in deep slumber as the Masjid came down..At that point I did not quite get the impact of his words, remember I was young then, still in my 30’s. But a strange kind of confidence sank inside me; it may have been brashness, but I doubt it. There was a massive job, the patient remained unconscious but haemodynamically stable. One of the biggest reasons or the only reason of not shifting the patient out must have been the fragility of the situation. That may have contributed to the decision of keeping him put in Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. Antulay Sahib had been brought into the hospital around 5 pm that day, but regained consciousness the next morning. He was weaned off inotrope support by late afternoon the next day. He was administered intravenous streptokinase and had undergone coronary bypass surgery in the mid eighties. The ECG and raised cardiac enzymes confirmed an acute heart attack. He made an uneventful recovery to be discharged inside a week.

 

It was after his discharge that I got to know the man. And what a man ! I can without any hesitation write that having lived so many years I am yet to come across a person so grateful, kind, gentle and affectionate to me. To the world he was a senior politician, a lot has been written about him, but to me he was an exemplary patient. He never discussed politics or any body with me. I had the privilege of looking after him for almost 20 years; remarkably all these years not once did he seek another opinion; such was his confidence and faith in me. He became a cabinet minister twice; so manifestly had large number of assistants ( secretaries, additional and joint secretaries etc apart from OSD’s ) but no one could dare nudge him to another doctor. That is a kind of loyalty very very few can provide. He would treat me both with respect ( I was so much younger than him) and at the same time with so much regard. I was always “Doctor Sahib” for him; he would always address me as “Doctor Sahib.” In fact his voice would actually change when he spoke to me. There was so much gentleness then. It was an absolute privilege to look after him. I always felt I was in the company of a special human being.

 

There are so many stories that I could narrate, but that would mean a book. But a few just have to be told. I was transferred out from Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital for some laughable reasons, it was a conspiracy that can be elaborated sometime later. Suffice to say that Antulay Sahib moved heaven and earth to get me back. You will not believe this but there were pretty formidable forces against me; one of them was the Saint “Chandraswami.” Yes you have read it right Chandraswami was ganged up against me. The man who could walk right into the PM’s residence without a security check. Cabinet ministers would prostrate before the Saint. The PM was his great chum. Anyway one fine afternoon the Saint actually called up Antulay Sahib long distance via a land line from Switzerland. It was early afternoon and I happened to be present. Antulay Sahib was told there was a phone call for him from the Swami; Antulay ji’s first reaction was of anger. He told the announcer that he had absolutely no interest in talking to the Swami, that the Swami should have been told he was not at home. He however walked up to the phone and listened for a few minutes to the Saint and then responded quite bluntly “ Swamiji I am a Muslim, you know that, so please stay away from my doctor. I will do all that I can to help him.” Obviously Chandraswami had been compelled to call up from Switzerland to persuade Antulay Sahib to desist from fighting my case. To take on that Saint in those days required raw courage that Antulay Sahib had in abundance. Chandraswami had enough clout to deny or award a cabinet post; but here was Antulay Sahib throwing his entire wight behind a young doctor who he had met barely a few months ago. Contrast this with Mani Shankar Aiyar. I was put on to Aiyar by Mr Dwivedi ; I walked into Mani’s lawn in Hanuman Lane; to be told by him that it would be best that I forget Lohia hospital and join a private hospital. Mani not only did not have the sensitivity to understand my problem, but actually dismissed Antulay Sahib as a spent force that was best ignored.

 

His affection for me is shown in this tale. Bansi Lal ji ( chief minister of Haryana ) came over one day to meet up Antulay Sahib. Antulay ji lived in Kamaraj Lane those days. I was sitting with Antulay ji. After the initial pleasantries Bansi Lal ji got ready for the serious (political ) talks, for which he had actually come. He gestured that I should leave the room, which was the right thing to do. I had no business overhearing 2 senior leaders exchange notes. Antulay Sahib, however smiled and told Bansi Lal ji I was harmless , with no political inclinations whatsoever. Such was Antulay ji’s indulgence; I walked out to make them both comfortable. I had looked after Bansi Lal ji for quite some years, and he too was a titan.

Mr Ram Khanna was a lovely chubby man with a smile always on his pleasant face ( the smile was genuine). He would look after Antulay Sahib whenever he was in Delhi, which was often. I too grew fond of “ Khanna Sahib” as he was always addressed by Antulay ji, because of the man’s simplicity and devotion to Antulay ji. Khanna Sahib was the genuine article without any doubt. Guess what Antulay ji told Khanna Sahib? “ How will I face the Almighty or express gratitude without expressing my gratitude to Doctor Sahib. I would be a phoney if I thanked God without appreciating Doctor Sahib.” Tell me do you know of anyone who can utter such words? I doubt very much. Forget thanking you, people dont even thank God, they thank their stars or their horoscopes.

 

I was in London; it was June 1995. I was working at the Harefield Hospital, as a registrar in cardiology. The health secretary Mr Dayal had very Kindly permitted me extraordinary leave to proceed to London in those turbulent days. I was still in limbo; that is out of Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, because of the whims of a handful of chaps, one of whose father financed the then health minister Mr Shankaranand. I was in my flat, the phone rang. It was Antulay Sahib, “Doctor Sahib I am signing the order that reinstates you back in Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital as head of department. I am using the pen presented to Nargis on her birthday. This is the first order that I have signed as the union health minister.” The first thing that Antulay ji did on becoming the cabinet health minister was to get me back. I bet Antulay ji had no clue that in the Mahabharata, Kunti tells her sons the “highest virtue” is gratitude. But Antulay ji had tons and tons of decency and humility in him. He would tell me always when one has power one should be humble, but the reverse when you are down; for if you are true God can change the world around you in the blink of an eye.

 

Antulay ji would always greet me with smile and a twinkle in his eyes. As if I was a little child. I could go on and on. This is not a fawning tribute. I stand to gain nothing, but I saw him from very close quarters. For many years. I repeat , it was an honour to have known him. I learnt lots from him, about men and the world. What I learnt most from him was that it is of utmost importance to be decent to fellow women and men, that all are equal before the eyes of the Gods. I can never forget Antulay ji, he stood by me like a rock, he never wavered even for a split second. He feared no man nor woman. They do not make them like him anymore. Mother India truly lost a good and brave soul, it can afford to shed a tear for him. I know I can.Today is his birth anniversary.

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