On 28 February 2002, three people received National Awards for Popularization of Science in Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. Dr. C.R. Chandrashekhar received the award in the general category. He was the first doctor in the country to receive this award. He was receiving an award from Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi, Union Minister for Science & Technology for the second time; the previous year he had received the Hari Om Trust award by University Grants Commission (UGC) for popularizing science from the same minister.
The award was well deserved. Dr. CRC, as he is popularly known, has written more than 200 books and 1000 articles on physical and mental health for lay people. Many of his books are best sellers and have been reprinted more than ten times. The book ‘How to Improve Memory’ in Kannada has sold more than 50,000 copies. He has been educating people on mental health through lectures, workshops, and radio and TV talks to remove the stigma associated with mental illness and to ensure that patients get proper treatment. He does around 100 such events in a year, and he has been tirelessly doing this for more than 40 years.
Chandrashekhar was born into a backward caste family. They were not well to do; no one had an education beyond high school and they lacked ambition. He used to get epileptic attacks when he was in school, and his parents knew no better than to take him to faith healers. When he passed SSLC, he had no plans to continue his education; instead, he joined his father’s printing press. He was content to work in the press, but at the urging of his teacher, who said he should become a doctor, he joined Pre-university course and later graduated in medicine. He was wondering which field to specialize in when a psychiatrist encouraged him to train under him, and later to join DPM course in National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), where he rose to become a senior professor of psychiatry.
Till the 1970s, mental health patients were confined in mental hospitals and psychiatry was not practiced outside mental hospitals. He was a pioneer in taking psychiatric services into the community and spreading awareness of mental health throughout Karnataka.
In his life he has applied for only three awards given for books. He never lobbied or applied for any awards for himself, yet he has got more than 50 prizes and awards so far. How Chandrashekar broke out of his humble background to become the most popular psychiatrist in Karnataka is a fascinating story.