An excerpt from the Epilogue of Pranay Gupte’s Healer: Dr. Prathap Chandra Reddy and the Transformation of India.
It was late one afternoon in Chennai, and Dr Reddy and I were sitting in his office. … The working day had been long for him, as usual, but Dr Reddy appeared remarkably fresh. … It became clear to me quickly that Dr Reddy wasn’t about to launch into a monologue. Rather, this was to be a dialogue — a kind of questioning in which an original question is responded to by a statement as though it were an answer…. This in turn forces the questioner to reformulate a new question in light of the progress of the discourse. I thought to myself, ‘This is going to be a Socratic dialogue.’
Did you ever imagine that one day you’d preside over an enterprise as large as Apollo?
As I always say, the loss of that 38-year-old patient who couldn’t raise the funds for a bypass in the United States made me determined to start a world-class hospital in India. I could have built a hospital that catered to 200 patients. But did I think that I had it within me to develop something much bigger? Yes. I always felt that. I wanted to do something in Indian medicine that hadn’t been done before. Maybe people had thought about building a corporate-sector hospital. But I was the one who took that leap; I was the one who took the risks. I didn’t dismiss the naysayers, but I never listened to them either.
How do you see yourself as a doctor?
Doctors are considered demi-gods in our society. People say that you give them hope, that you have the power of life and death. But you cannot let that go to your head. There’s only one God – and it isn’t you. As a doctor, you need to commit yourself to giving compassion. In the case of some people you give them their life back. For some people you give joy by restoring their health. In all cases, you end up making a difference. As a doctor, you serve. As a doctor, you don’t seek to be worshipped. I always want to live up to the trust of the people who come seeking care.
Do you see yourself as a humanitarian?
All people are not born equal, at least in their circumstances. But in the medical profession, you are obliged to offer everybody equal care. You can’t cut corners just because a patient is poor. To me, being a humanitarian means doing the best that I can — and that means delivering the best health care. I don’t covet awards. I don’t seek applause. I live every day the way I want to live it — by being a good doctor to as many people as I can through Apollo. Does that make me a “humanitarian”? You decide. You’re the writer.’
Now that you have mostly achieved what you wanted in life, now that you have built a stable and strong organization, now that you have a solid succession plan in place, and now that you have crossed eighty years of age, is it time for you to take it easy?
My answer to that is simple. Between 2013 and 2030, the cumulative cost of health care and loss in economic productivity due to illness — largely because of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic pulmonary ailments and diabetes — is expected to be about $30 trillion. And quite a significant portion of that would be because of the situation in India. I like to think that I created a workable ecosystem that would address India’s continuing health care needs. Is this job done? If the answer is yes, then I would leave my office tomorrow. But I rather suspect that there’s so much more to be done.
Excerpted with the permission of Penguin Books India.
Healer: Dr Prathap Chandra Reddy and the Transformation of India; Pranay Gupte, Penguin, Rs.899