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A hospital by any name…

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Sir Mohammed Usman
Sir Mohammed Usman

A reader asked me the other day whether I knew anything about the London thotti aaspathri and I had to confess my ignorance. But that’s not a state I relish being in, so I went looking for answers. And what I found was the whole Hamilton Bridge story again. The Ambattan Bridge in this case had become London thotti aaspathri through a transformation of Landon’s Gardens to London Gardens and then to London thottam. But how thottam became thotti I look forward to enlightenment on.

Landon’s Gardens once stretched all the way from the present Landon’s Road to Poonamallee High Road and across it, I am told, and it was in a portion of this that the Government School of Indian Medicine — the genesis of today’s College of Indian Medicine in Anna Nagar — had its beginnings in 1925. The treatment facilities the School offered as well as its location led to it being called the London thotti aaspathri, I learnt. But this raised another question. The School, it is well recorded, was founded in Hyde Park Gardens, a garden house belonging to the Rajah of Panagal and where Kilpauk Medical College now is. Had the Hyde Park Gardens site at some earlier point of time been a part of Landon’s Gardens? May be an answer will turn up.

Meanwhile, while searching for an answer to my reader I came across the fact that the School of Indian Medicine was the result of the deliberations of a Government Committee that met in 1921. It was chaired by Mohammed Usman and its Secretary was Capt. (Dr.) G. Srinivasa Murti who is generally considered the father of the School. Muhammad Usman, later knighted, was someone who for long has been a mystery to me, unless you count the well-known facts that he was an Executive Councillor, a Vice Chancellor of the University of Madras, and the first Indian to act as Governor of Madras. Now, I discovered something more.

He apparently was by profession a Unani physician and was more often that not addressed as Hakim Mohammed Usman. Chartres Molony, a contemporary Civilian, describes Usman’s practise of the indigenous system of medicine in these terms: “I have never been able to ascertain what exactly that system may be; in Usman’s case I fancy that it meant mainly adaptation of Western ideas to Oriental psychology. Usman was a graduate of the Madras University, and he had studied in the school of European medicine almost up to the point of taking a degree.”

Molony goes on to recall, “He often paid me a friendly visit when I was recovering from typhoid fever. He told me that the Unani method of treating that disease was just the same as the European, but that a certain amount of coloured water and a few incantations had a very encouraging effect on patients.” Molony doesn’t say whether the effect was the same on him.

About Usman’s performance in the Madras Executive Council, Molony is rather more forthcoming: “In the Council he was diligent and fair-minded, but not a very effective speaker.” But he certainly was more effective with the report referred to, getting it implemented in the face of “the anger and dismay” with which it was greeted by many practitioners of Western medicine who saw it as “a nationalist diatribe that failed to offer any convincing evidence for the claim made for Ayurveda.”

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