Dr. K. Kannan has an amazing repertoire of skills, hobbies, passion and profession.

He is an endocrinologist by profession – and that too Madurai’s first and Tamil Nadu’s second. But he plays the violin and the key board with as much flair and passion as is his commitment to his patients.

As a medical doctor he specializes in disorders of the endocrine glands and their hormones. People with diabetes, infertility or thyroid problems, children with growth problems vouch by his name and service. But then he is also an accomplished lawyer having a Bachelor’s degree in General Law.

“I did it when the Consumer Protection Act was introduced to understand how the law would work and look at people,” he tells sheepishly catching my surprise gaze.

As I delve deeper, I realize Dr.K.Kannan is not one bit the stereotypical medical practitioners stuck in their restricted world of clinics, patients, conferences and journals. Rather, he has multiple interests outside medicine, including music, chess, Tamil language, computer programming, nature and ornithology, short story writing, travelling, photography, editing, reading… the benefits of which he never ceases to advocate.

I gape at the awesome list and in typical lingo he says: “I am a Type A individual but my Plan B always works!”

“I wanted to become an engineer but became a doctor. Wanted to take up cardiology but became an endocrinologist. Dreamt of going to US but went to PGI, Chandigarh, for my DM in Endocrinology. My wife was an excellent cook but I always remained on a controlled diet devoid of salt, sugar, ghee, fried items and non-veg. Despite my specialization, ironically I lost my wife to diabetes at 50. I have an image of an angry man but I get irritated only when I don’t get quality and commitment and then tend to recoil into my groove…” he explains rapid fire as my amazement leaps.

Dr.Kannan believes in leading by performance and excellence. His visiting card simply says “Consultant endocrinologist”. A small board at his clinic on East Veli Street tells you he is “MD, DM, FICP, BGL”. But he is quick to add that all these letters and degrees lose significance if he is unable to deal with patients humanely. “I find my interaction with patients far more rewarding than any other laurel or recognition,” he asserts.

Several interesting qualities characterize Dr.Kanan besides his skill as a physician specializing in endocrinology. But the one which stands out is undoubtedly his passion for learning. Learning that extends beyond his medical education to international travel, wonders of nature to fix it yourself guides for just about anything, from natural healing to healthiest food, from science of music to Salman Rushdie’s novels and EVR Periyar’s preachings, from books on law and management to various games and sports and Darwin’s theory…his library has a collection of 5,000 titles.

“I have read them all, some only once, few quite a number of times and many, I don’t recall how many times,” he reveals taking me to his study room cramped with wall to wall and ceiling to floor book shelves. “I also wanted to do an MBA but couldn’t, so I bought all the course books and read them” – such pleasant shockers from Dr.Kannan keep flying through the chat.

I wonder whether I should ask him “Why endocrinology” when he tells me passionately about his present obsession – to bring out the Tirukkural in English, Hindi and Tamil. He translated the 1,330 couplets into English in 2002 and now hopes the trilingual publication to be out in three months.

In 1982 when he went to the US, he got hooked to the fuzzy logic of computers and did a computer programming course from Thiagarajar College of Engineering to quench his curiosity for the medium and its medical and laboratory application.

Fiercely individualistic and with an insatiable appetite for work, I finally do ask him “why endocrinology”?

And he shares his life’s story: “My father was an Highways engineer and as a child I too wanted to become one like him. In Class VIII, I attended a medical exhibition at Madras Medical College (MMC) and that proved to be a turning point. I joined MMC and later did my MD from Madurai Medical College. Endocrinology appealed to me because there is so much mental work involved.”

For Dr. Kannan, correlating different hormone values with a patient’s symptoms, reviewing each lab value and coming up with a diagnosis and treatment plan is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle.

“It is extremely rewarding to correct patients’ metabolic diseases and make them feel healthy and enable them to get back to their regular activities,” he doesn’t hide.

Learning about his patients is an integral part of his effectiveness as a physician. “My job is to answer their questions and address their concerns. My patients are free to call me any time, and I encourage them to do so,” he says, amidst his continuously ringing mobile and landline phones.

His accessibility and responsiveness to patients is largely responsible for what some would consider a grueling work schedule. People close to him say they are struck by his incisive intelligence and practice and it is quite something to ‘experience’ rather than know his ‘idiosyncratic’ views.

He gives an impromptu demonstration on the keyboard – which helps him to focus and concentrate more -- to explain the sounds of music. Unable to play the violin due to neck pain, he is now trying to figure out why a particular type of music attracts more and another doesn’t. “I am not learning to give concerts. It is just my love for music,” he underlines.

With an angioplasty done, what he never misses is his regular walks, yoga, meditation and playing chess. “I have won many prizes at various levels,” he tells albeit reluctantly.

Besides all his other avocations, Dr.Kannan, who came to Madurai in 1966, is talked about best for his work in diabetes, organizing regular free medical camps, raising awareness levels of people, procuring availability of expensive drugs and administering it to common people at affordable price.

He established the Department of Endocrinology in Government Hospital in 1982 and pioneered diabetic education programmes in schools and villages. He conducted the first ever free camp for diabetes detection in 1991 and just this last Sunday conducted the 235{+t}{+h} uninterrupted.

His selfless service in updating diagnostic skills and management of endocrine problems has put him in the forefront but he says humbly: “People are much more aware now, follow proper diet. Better medicines are available and treatment is easy now than what it was three decades ago. People live longer without many of the earlier complications.”

When he is not busy as a doctor, he is working even more hard. He works on the treadmill, travels a lot, writes short notes in his diary when he is tense, attends medical conferences, gives talks, helps diabetic children of poor parents with medical treatment, education and well-being.

“I have a wide interest in this world, you see,” he reiterates. Indeed. And like all doctors, he wishes to be considered a good doctor, who thinks watching television and films and chasing politicians and VIPs is a waste of time.

He rues that earlier it was only ‘principles (science) and practice (art) of medicine. But now, a third element, “business” has been added. This is what makes Dr.Kannan, a protagonist, whose decisions are crucially important for human lives.



* Awards include the Srinivasulu Naidu 1962 prize in Juris Prudence, Madras Medical College; Gold Medal for clinical research in diabetes from Gujarat Ayurvedic Clinical Research University,1980; WHO Fellowship in USA, 1982; Thiruvalluvar Day Award for Best Books in Tamil by the Tamil Nadu Government 1992; Tamil Development Deparment Award , 1993, "Maruthuvath Tamil Arvalar" (Medical Tamil Enthusiast); Nagappan Trust Award for the Tamil book "Sarkarai Noyum Sikisai Murayum",1999; Thirugnanam Oration IMA; Dr. P.K. Kesavan award for medical and social work; Freelance Journalist Association National Award for Excellence in Medical Journalism; IMA – Madurai Branch – Doctor’s Day Award.

* Has his own publication “Inippil Orun Ethiri” to educate people on diabetes. Is also on the editorial board of seven other publications – “Antiseptic”, “Endocrine Newsletter”, “Journal of the Endocrine Society of India”, “Journal of the Association of Physicians of India”, “The Asian Diabetology Journal”, “Sarkaraiyil Akkarai” and “Iniya Inippu Malar”.

* Also has two dozen books and 120 papers published in various journals.

* Is founder and secretary of All India Diabetic Association, Madurai; Life member of several associations and organizations including the Indian Medical Association, ESI, YMCA, Association of Physicians in India, Indian Society for Research in Reproduction, Indian Society for Environmental Health, National Geographic Society; Founder vice president and life member of Walker’s Club and member of the Sathguru Sangeetha Samajam

Keywords: Dr. K. Kannan


Modern sound of ancient IndiaJuly 2, 2010