Tales from the medical repository

September 23, 2016 12:00 am | Updated November 01, 2016 08:18 pm IST - Bengaluru:

Tomorrow, INTACH will hold a walk-through of city’s long history of medicine and its practitioners

treasure trove:The Maj. Gen. S.L. Bhatia Museum at St. John’s Medical College houses precious medical memorabilia such as manuscripts and collectibles.— photo: special correspondent

treasure trove:The Maj. Gen. S.L. Bhatia Museum at St. John’s Medical College houses precious medical memorabilia such as manuscripts and collectibles.— photo: special correspondent

“We invite you for a special INTACH Parichay event on the history of medicine,” said a curiously worded event invite from the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH).

It was an invitation to a walk-through (or ‘parichay’) planned by INTACH at the Maj. Gen. S.L. Bhatia Museum at the St. John’s Medical College (SJMC) campus on Saturday.

“Many a time, heritage and history go beyond structures and buildings,” says Meera Iyer, co-convener, INTACH, Bengaluru. “The items on display at the museum give an insight into world medical history.”

So what makes this museum so special? “The manuscripts, records and collectibles housed there, which include an original print of A History of Medicine by Parke Davis, received in 1968, original archives of Maj. Gen. Bhatia from 1920s to 1960s, correspondence with Nobel laureate A.V. Hill, and original physicians’ costumes, are priceless,” says Radhika Hegde, curator of the museum and lecturer at St. John’s.

Maj. Gen. Bhatia, who served as Director-General of Health Services, retired in Bengaluru and wanted to create a museum to preserve his immense collection of medical memorabilia.

Tumultuous days

The records at the museum trace the history of medicine through the ancient time of unwritten practices in Europe and the raw surgical methods of the Greek physician Galen, who tested them on animals first. Compared to the dark medieval ages of Europe, many discoveries in medical treatment were made in Asian countries with plant derivatives, including Ayurveda in India, adds Ms. Hegde.

“The museum also contains century-old medical instruments, including a midwife kit, about 2,000 books assiduously collected by Maj. Gen. Bhatia, a multitude of photographs ... it is not just a medical student’s haven, but also a heritage lover’s paradise,” Ms. Hegde says.

“The parichay will not just take people around on an acclimatisation tour, but will also showcase the Bengaluru angle to fascinating medical discoveries,” says Mario Vaz, director of the museum.

The museum also chronicles the struggles faced by Maj. Gen Bhatia in setting it up. His vision did not end after a see-saw struggle with the State government fizzled out. In 1964, Maj. Gen Bhatia was appointed Professor Emeritus of History of Medicine at St. John’s Medical College. Along with the first dean of the medical college, L. Monteiro, and Y.P. Rudrappa (the then dean of Bangalore Medical College), he started an association of history of medicine in 1971. The museum was inaugurated on June 12, 1974.

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