Campus reconnect: Consultant physician and haematologist K.V. Krishna Das, a student of the first batch of Government Medical College, remembers his days as a student and teacher
I was 13 when my father, M.K. Venkitachala Sarma, a Sanskrit scholar, told me, “You should become a doctor.” I wondered why. Then we were living in Mankombu in Alappuzha district and our family was into agriculture. I wanted to learn Sanskrit and the medical profession had never crossed my mind.
But my father had his reasons. ‘It is the only profession which will be of help to others’, he told me. Also, he wanted me to follow in the footsteps of his brother, M.K. Sambasivan [father of renowned agriculturist M.S. Swaminathan] who earned his medical degree from Madras Medical College, but died quite young. My father wanted me to fill up that vacuum. And I had a role model in Dr. K.N. Balakrishnan, my cousin.
I decided to fulfill my father’s wish and took up science. From Alappuzha I moved to Thiruvananthapuram to do my B.Sc. at University College.
Prior to the establishment of a medical college in the capital city, the erstwhile state of Travancore had a quota of two students each in the medical colleges in Madras, Cuttack, Dibrugarh (Assam) and Kolkata. In 1951, there were no seniors to guide us about the dress code or decorum. Some of us turned up in mundu and chappals. Then we were told to come in shirts, trousers and shoes. We had to walk a lot from the main junction to the hospital, but that was never an issue.
I still remember the warm reception we got from the principal Dr. C.O. Karunakaran and our teachers who were drawn from other medical colleges across the country. There were retired teachers on special appointment as well.
Learning from the best
Our teachers were more like guardian angels. They excelled when it came to discipline, time management and lecture management. Though they were quite friendly in the classrooms, outside the class they maintained a distance from us! In the third year, we had to do clinical medicine and since the hospital was not ready, we had a one-year stint at General Hospital.
The teachers always stressed on the need to be patient-friendly. The patients, on the other hand, had great respect for us students as well which was quite overwhelming. Some of them even thought that a house surgeon is much superior to a surgeon!
Anaemia and malnutrition were quite common then. They also came with valvular heart disease, worm attacks, rheumatic heart disease, asthma, filaria and TB.
In those days we learnt from our teachers only. Text books were few, there was no Internet to assist or guide us. The diagnosis was based on our own clinical judgement. Also that was a time when it wasn’t easy to take X-rays or scans.
I’m proud to have passed out of the college with four gold medals. Then I joined the hospital as a pathology demonstrator. The college gave me a free hand, especially in dissecting specimens and making museum specimens.
I was also given an opportunity to work with Michaele Gerundo, a haematologist and visiting professor from the United States, an inspiration for me to study haematology later on.
Although I got appointed as tutor in medicine at the college, I went to University of Edinburgh, Scotland, to do Diploma in Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, became a Fellow of Royal College of Physicians and also did a six-month course on haematology.
On my return, I became professor of medicine, rose to the position of head of the department in 1973 and served the college in that position for 14 years. I could help students in their thesis and establish a haematology centre. As a teacher I firmly believe that no student is bad. It is the duty of a teacher to give the person the necessary skill and bring out the best.
I’m 82 now, but have little time to relax. I still do consultation and am busy with my writing.
Now I’m working on the sixth edition of my medical textbook. Writing is a creative activity which I enjoy, it has added to my student strength, some of whom I’ve never met.
At a function, Minister M.K. Muneer told me that I am his invisible guru! Also, when I went with my wife to Kailas Manasarovar, I met a man from Gujarat who excitedly told me that his grand-daughter studies my book! What more could I ask for?
In 1951 the medical college was started. There were 60 of us in the first batch. Classes started in September [The foundation stone was laid on January 26, 1950 and Jawaharlal Nehru officially opened the college on November 27, 1951]. There were 20 girls in the batch. Admissions were made on the basis of marks in the intermediate and degree courses. The hospital was not ready then. The classes were taken on the main campus, and, initially, we stayed in the nurses’ hostel since the hostel for men was not ready by then.
My guiding lights
Professors T.V. Mathew, C. Vareed, Dr. D. Narayana Rao, Dr. Raghunandan Rao, Dr. Yagna Narayana Iyer, Dr. T.K. Raman, Dr. Kesavan Nair, Dr. D. K. Sabhesan, Dr. R.G. Krishnan, Dr.Vincent D. Bayliss, Dr. K. N. Pai, Dr. K. Parameswaran, Dr. Sivarajan, Dr. Govindan, Dr. C. A. Achuthan Pillai, Dr. V. Kumara Pillai, Dr. Velayudhan Pillai, Dr. Kurien George, Dr. Ambadi, Dr. S. S. Pillai, Prof. Thangavelu, Dr. Krishnan Thampi…
(As told to ATHIRA M.)
A column to commemorate the platinum jubilee of the University of Kerala. Eminent teachers and people from different walks of life talk about their student days in various colleges under the University