Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXVIII No. 15, November 16-30, 2018

A doctor to remember

Page 3

If you happen to pass by the General Hospital in Park Town, you cannot resist the temptation to halt for a while to study an imposing statue near the main entrance. The engraved marble below reads:

Dr. S. RANGACHARI m.b. & c.s.
Surgeon and Physician
In memory of his
rare medical skill
and boundless humanity
erected by a grateful public.

The statue of Dr. Rangachari is a fitting tribute to his invaluable contribution to the medical profession and was the first in the city to be installed for this reason with funding by a grateful public. In a short span of time he rose to dizzy heights and came to be recognised as one of the greatest doctors in India.

Rangachari was compared with Gautama Buddha for his unlimited compassion. For him a patient needed solace and healing, no matter whether he was rich or poor. He did not care for money, but it came pouring in. Rangachari’s success was phenomenal because he surpassed in all the three branches his contemporaries who were undisputed leaders: Dr. A. Lakshmanaswamy Mudaliar in Gynaecology, Col. (Dr.) Pandalai in Surgery and Dr. Guruswamy Mudaliar in General Medicine. This fact can never be overlooked and this makes him an all-time great.

Rangachari was born in Sarukkai village in April 1882. His father, Krishnamachari, who was in government service named his son Raja Srinivasa Iyengar, after his grandfather, but he preferred to call himself Sarukkai Rangachari, a name destined to become legendary.

After graduation from Madras Christian College in science, Rangachari decided to join medical college. His parents were from an orthodox vaishnavite family deeply rooted in traditions opposed the very idea because as a doctor he would have to touch dead bodies for post mortems. How dearly it would have cost the medical world, had he succumbed to their “pressure”. He remained steadfast in his decision for the following reasons: First, he had been an eye witness to the suffering experienced by his grandfather for want of proper medical care, secondly, he was shaken by a heart-rending scene in the government hospital of a mother who had lost her child crying out her soul, thirdly, his classmate and namesake opted for the course.

After passing out from the medical college, Rangachari joined government service. Very soon, he became extremely popular on account of his exceptional acumen to diagnose malady and heal patients in incredible fashion. Thousands of doctors have passed out of M.M.C. but none possessed what Rangachari had – the healing touch; patients believed that once he touched them they were sure to be cured. The meteoric rise of Rangachari in public opinion earned him the wrath of the British hierarchy. Instead of creating more opportunities for him to blossom and expand his activities, they tried their best to contain him. They manoeuvered to get him transferred to various smaller stations in the Madras Presidency.

A curious incident occurred when Rangachari was Assistant Surgeon in G.H. A British woman was admitted with labour pains. Her ego would not allow an Indian to touch her. The surgeon, a British national, was well aware of his limitations and Rangachari’s efficiency. Deciding not to take a risk, he played a trick; he asked Rangachari to enter the labour ward as anaesthesist and once the woman became unconscious, he allowed him to take full charge of the delivery also. He sprayed drops of blood on his apron and barged out of the ward as though he had attended the case.

Disillusioned by the persistent harassment, Rangachari put in his papers as Professor of Surgery and Medicine in M.M.C. and started private practice, scaling heights unknown before. He set up his own clinic on Poonamallee High road and christened it “Kingston”. He would begin his work at 4 a.m. When he was in one O.T., the next patient would get ready in the other. He would do as many operations as possible from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. and then go round the wards.

After 1 p.m., he would visit houses to treat patients who had requested him. He would have his lunch in his car itself. Apart from him, only one other person possessed a Rolls Royce in the city. He silenced critics saying that as he spent the most part of his day in the car, it served as his home.To treat patients in other cities, he had an aircraft of his own. Though he had a pilot’s licence, the government insisted he engaged a pilot.

The glorious saga of this great doctor came to a tragic end. Like so many incidents in his life, his death was incredible and sensational. At a comparatively young age of 52, he had an attack of typhoid. Due to excessive loss of blood, he succumbed to the disease, from which he had saved hundreds of patients. You are tempted to wonder what he would have done had fate spared for a few more years.

Take another look at the statue. A sculptor’s delight, the towering personality stands with his hands locked behind holding a steth and his head bowed down as though he were looking at a patient with profound compassion. The statue epitomises the sterling qualities of a rare human.

S. Lakshminarayan
30, Second Street, Parathasarathy Nagar
Chennai 600 088




  2. tris says:

    Thank you for writing this very readable article. However there are some points on which I am not convinced.
    1. What was the official policy : Were Indian doctors allowed to treat British women especially obstetric and gynaecology patients? There was no apartheid in India as in South Africa but surely some lines were drawn, somewhere.
    2. Who harassed Dr. R? Were the British jealous that he was popular among his own people? Were they just dying to serve Indians themselves? I just don’t get it .
    If there an official biography of this legendary doctor, I would love to read it. The statue itself is irrelevant to me. I’d rather have a well-researched story.Thanks again for writing this and reminding us of the good doctor.

    • A M SRINIVASAN says:

      There is a biography in Tamil by writer Ms Rajam Krishnan reprinted after a long time We will be grateful if someone can translate this book in English

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