The Crusader of Mental Health

His Beginnings

Chandrasekhar was born on 12 December 1948 to B M Rajannachar and S P Sarojamma. His father was a goldsmith and owned a jewelry shop. They lived in Chennapatna, synonymous with its main trade of making wooden toys to this day. Making strings for veena, sericulture and silk weaving were the other trades practiced. But it was also associated with Shikhandi, the character in Mahabharata; by extension, people associated the town with eunuchs, even though the number of transgenders and eunuchs was not high. People used to snigger when someone said he was from Chennapatna. The population was around 10,000 and there were no factories. Toys were made by Muslim artisans at their homes. CRC had limited interactions with these artisans, except for their children who studied with him.
When he was about five years old, he had an epileptic attack. His family and the town people were not aware that a person with epilepsy should be taken to a hospital and that treatment was available. CRC was treated by a native healer; the treatment did not work and he got a second attack a couple of years later.

During summer breaks from school, he used to walk three miles to Hosahalli village, where his aunt lived. She was a widow and lived with her father. Her son, Rajanna, was about six months older than CRC. The two boys would enjoy walking on the banks of river Kanva and the tank bund, plucking fruits from orchards and playing games. When he was 8 years old and studying in the third standard, one day he and Rajanna were playing in a pond outside the village. CRC had an epileptic attack and slipped into the water. His cousin held CRC’s head above water and called for help. Villagers who were nearby came and pulled out the boy and carried him home. It was a providential escape as there was a 20 feet deep pit just a few feet away from where CRC had slipped. After this episode , he did not get an epileptic attack in his life.

Growing up in this environment, the young boy never dreamt of becoming a doctor, let alone becoming a specialist. Guidance and motivation given by his mentors and teachers, chances that life sent his way, and his determination to achieve whatever goal he set for himself made him first a general doctor and then a psychiatrist.

His father was a strict parent and an honest and plain speaking man. He was a loner and had few friends. He was somewhat short tempered; his temper and his conviction that he was always right and everyone should listen to him made his relatives keep a distance. His father was self-respecting, hard working, valued simple living and was frugal in spending. CRC imbibed from him these qualities.

His father in later years started avoiding going to relatives’ functions such as marriages; he would send his wife to these events. His mother was a sociable person and maintained friendly relations with all relatives. It was only because of her that relatives would visit their home. CRC was their only child, but his childhood was not lonely. His cousin brothers, who were close to his age, would visit them. Life was unhurried and there was time to play with cousins and classmates.

Though he did well in school, his parents did not praise him; nor they ever criticize him for anything. But the way in which relatives and society looked at him, instilled a sense of inferiority in him. He did not bear any resentment towards them. When he was older, he understood that their attitudes towards color, caste and class dictated their behavior.

He was borne into the goldsmith caste; people of this caste make and sell gold jewelry by tradition. Most of them were backward educationally, and by class. Gold and silver metal workers are skilled and creative. People need them and they are crucial to the success of events like marriage. But people also believe that goldsmiths cheat by mixing cheaper metals to make jewels of inferior quality gold. A goldsmith will even swindle his sister to make her wedding ‘thali’ was a proverb. The community was looked down upon and not trusted. As kids, CRC and his friends from his community were taunted because of their caste and teased by being called gold swindlers. He used to feel hurt. His friends were not well off like him. Their fathers did not have their own shops – they were workers in goldsmiths’ shops, and barely managed to fulfill basic needs. They were addressed in the singular form of pronoun in Kannada, denoting their lower status. One group within the Viswakarma (metal workers) caste was vegetarian and devout, following religious rituals and traditions. This group was called ‘Vishakarma brahmins’; his mother told him that they belonged to this caste.

When asked, CRC used to be ashamed to say that he was a Vishwakarma or from goldsmith caste. Later on in life, when asked his caste, he would avoid answering. Sometimes, when forced to make an answer, he would dissemble by saying they were devotees of Shiva. ‘Does that mean you are Lingayats or Veerashaivas’, his interlocutors would continue to probe. He would remain silent. Even today, if people assume that he is a Lingayat or a Brahmin, he does not contradict them.

He had never believed in the caste system; he has never asked anyone his or her caste. In application forms, in the place of caste, he started filling out ‘Hindu’.

When asked for his ‘native’ place, he would try to avoid answering; when compelled, he would state that he was from Bangalore. Technically, it was true, for he was born in a maternity home in Bangalore.

Another cause for his inferiority complex was his dark color. His parents were not dark, but his grandfather was dark, he was told. His dark complexion did not bother him. But as he grew, he felt dejected when he realized that his fairer companions looked down upon him.

His father had risen from being a gold smith to owning a gold jewelry shop. He did well for himself taking customers’ orders and outsourcing the work to his relatives who were gold smiths. Around the time CRC entered middle school, his father quit jewelry business and started a printing press, Sri Rajkamal Press. He came to be known as ‘Press Rajanna’. People stopped calling CRC a goldsmith’s son.

Theirs was the only printing press in the town for many years, until a second press was set up. CRC decided that he would become an all-rounder worker in the press. Their press printed invitation cards, voucher books for businesses and stationary. His father acted as the manager and employed three workers. Whenever any of the workers took leave, Rajanna took over his job. When CRC reached high school, he spent his vacation time in the press. He learnt all aspects of running a press – typesetting, printing, taking orders from customers, binding, proof reading, purchasing paper from Bangalore and printing. He took great satisfaction in doing his job well. He learnt the value of working hard, attention to detail and perfection in execution, which stayed with him all through his life. The praise he won for his work made him decide that printing was his vocation.

In 1964, he passed in first class and stood first in his taluk (sub-district) in SSLC examination. Yet he had no interest in continuing his studies. The town did not have any P.U. college and most youngsters would stop their education after SSLC and start working or join their family businesses. Some joined the local polytechnic for a diploma course. Only a few chose to join colleges in Bangalore, Mandya or Mysore.

When CRC declared that he had no desire to continue studies and would join his father in the press, his parents did not object. When people asked why he did not join a college, seeing that he had stood first in their taluk, he did not react. The period from April to June, after his graduation from high school, was a busy season for printing. Then came monsoon or Ashada season, which was a lean period. He went to meet his high school teacher, Mohammad Ghori. His teacher told him that while working in printing press was fine, he should continue his education. He encouraged CRC to come to him for lessons and asked him to improve his English, buy a grammar book when he visited Bangalore next, and read English newspapers; he encouraged him to think independently and write essays to express his thoughts and then show them to him. He suggested that CRC could become a writer. CRC began to come for tuition twice a week.

CRC had no dreams of becoming a writer and had never written anything. But the company of his friend, Laxminarayana, who loved to read literature had created in him an interest in reading short stories and novels by leading Kannada writers like Aa Na Kru, Shivram Karanth, and Triveni . What made his teacher see talent for writing in him remained a mystery to CRC.

In 1965, 11th standard classes started in the high school in Chennapatna. His teacher prodded him to join, but CRC did not follow the suggestion. Hoping to motivate him to continue his education, Ghore suggested that CRC should attend the tuitions he gave to 11th standard students to increase his knowledge.

That year, the work load in press was low. Competition for business had become tough due the entry of a new press in Chennapatna. Sensing that CRC was at a loose end, Ghore told him that he could not depend on the press to make his living and that his future was not in the press. “Now you need to continue your studies. Your friends who were your classmates have joined medical college. You too should join and become a doctor.”

In 1966, CRC joined PUC (Pre-University Course) in Government Arts & Science College (GAS) in Bangalore. GAS College was famous for its students’ strikes and protests. People asked him why he had not joined a better college. One the reasons for selecting GAS was that since it was a government college, its fees were low. Another reason was that it was close to his uncle’s house. Later, when he got to know the brilliant teachers of this college, he had reason to be proud of his choice. The Principal , Mr. Umarji, was a simple man and came to college by public bus. Any student could meet him directly to discuss his problem. Many of his lecturers inspired him and left lasting memories. Like Mr. Raghava, who was physically handicapped, and Mr. Channaiah, who could bring to life Shakespeare’s plays with his passionate mono-acting in his classes. Mr. Hanumantha Rao, the Biology lecturer, made the students feel they were witnessing the evolution of life through his lively lectures. Mr. Hampa Nagarajiah was popular because of his humor and friendly nature. Students could approach Mr. Subba Rao, the Chemistry lecturer any time to clear their doubts; he took free coaching classes for those who needed it. Mr. Srinivas Rao, the Physics teacher, would even come to the hostel rooms to coach students during exams. Mrs. Lalithamma was the Kannada lecturer, who encouraged CRC to write; she later became a doctor and social activist.

During the one year of PUC, he stayed in the hostel of Central College; this was the first time he was staying away from home. He had two roommates, with whom he quickly became friends. Surendra was from Tumkur and later became a cardiologist. The second roommate was Lingappa from Chitradurga, who became an agriculturist after graduation.

A function was organized by the hoteliers to welcome the first year students. CRC was selected to speak on behalf of the freshers; by then he had lost the stage fear which he had during his school days. The hostel and mess were good; CRC liked the festive lunch served during holidays and special occasions. Surendra became homesick and quit at the end of first year. He rejoined college after a gap of one year. Balagopal took his place in their hostel room. He was a tough looking boy, who pursued body building and loved to eat. He was good at heart and both he and CRC went to gym and jogged in the cricket field together.

He wrote an article in English on Nitrogen, which was published in the college magazine, and won appreciation from his Chemistry lecturer. He wrote a short story and sent it to a Kannada magazine; he later received a regret letter, which said he should continue to write.

Due to the dedicated efforts of the faculty, forty students from his batch got admission in medical colleges. CRC got 67% marks in Physics Chemistry and Biology in the final exams. He got a seat in Bangalore Medical College. He was the first among his family and relatives, none of whom had a college degree, to join MBBS course.

He did his MBBS from September 1967 to March 1973. The course consisted of lectures, viva and theory, practical tests and house surgeoncy. The most difficult exam to pass was anatomy. Half of the students would fail in this, and many of them had to take the exam several times before they passed. They all felt that if they passed anatomy exam, it was as good as passing MBBS. Even the best performing students feared anatomy practical test. The examiners were reputed for their tough questions; many students would fall sick when one of the tough professors happened to be on the panel.

They had to work hard and stress was levels were high. The company of fellow students who had become close friends, group studies, and taking time off for fun activities like travel and movies helped them to cope with the stress. He wrote humorous articles of their trips, which were made on a shoe string budget.

He and his gang of friends, who called themselves ‘gundas’ (meaning those who love fun), went on many tours around Bangalore, visiting Mysore, Srirangapatna, Mekedatu, Biligirirangana Hills, Ooty, Savanadurga and other destinations. They were adventurous and mischievous young men who had little money to spend, but knew how to enjoy life. He used to write humorous memoirs of their exploits and trips, and circulate them among his friends who could read Kannada.

During their trip to Biligirirangana Hills, they had a narrow escape from death. They reached the Biligiriranganatha Swamy Temple, located at the edge of a cliff overlooking the Wildlife Sanctuary, at 7 pm. They visited the temple and camped at the guest house attached to the temple. The sky was overcast with black clouds. Thunderstorm started at night with heavy rains. They were resting after dinner and chatting, spreading themselves across the verandah and room. Suddenly a blinding flash of lightning struck near them. There was a loud sound like a bomb blast; the building shook and sparks flew across the floor. The lights failed. They were petrified with fear and could not move for few moments. They debated whether to return the same night, but gathered courage and went to sleep. When they went to the temple the next morning, the local people told them that they had been protected by God. The lightening had struck at a boulder a few feet from the guest house; they had been worried that the boys in the guest house may have perished.

He continued his writing in medical college. He wrote poems, memoirs of travels with students, short stories and articles, and shared them with friends. Many of them praised his writing and gave feedback. He was affectionately called ‘Rayaru CRC’. Some of his stories were published in the college magazine. In 1972, he was part of the editorial team. The same year, he received an award from Bangalore University for the best Kannada poem. In an inter-collegiate competition, he was selected to recite his poem, which got a prize. His first medical article, which was on breast cancer was published in October 1972 in Kannada magazine, Prajamata. In 1973, his second medical article, which dealt with blood donation, and a short story appeared in Sudha magazine. His feelings of inferiority disappeared and he developed confidence in himself and self-esteem.

CRC used to attend all classes without fail, take notes during class, engage in group study and discussions with friends, refer to class notes regularly and practice answering questions within the time limit given. The theory tests of the Pre-Professional Course (PPC) were easy for him; he did well in all of them. Like most other students, he too became anxious and tense when it was time for the final examinations.He passed all the exams and stood eighth in the university.

While they were waiting for practical exam for surgery to begin, someone passed on a tip that a cadaver with tumor in pancreas had been kept for the examination. In their tension and confusion, CRC and many others when asked to identify the disease, gave their diagnosis as pancreatic tumor. When the examiner asked each of them what was basis of his diagnosis, none of them could justify his answer.

Their internal examiner, Professor Desikachar, became furious. “In an undergraduate examination, would we ask about pancreatic tumor? What is wrong with all of you? You have seen patients come in every day to Victoria hospital with peptic ulcer. You have seen gastrojejunostomy surgery being performed everyday. Instead of thinking of a common problem, you came up with a rare disease like pancreatic tumor. It seems someone gave you a clue. Instead of using your knowledge, you relied on the rumour. I will fail all of you. I will see all of you after 6 months!” he railed at them.

The students lost all hopes of passing surgery practical exams. However, much to their relief, CRC and a few others passed the exam.

Interacting with the numerous patients who came every day to Victoria hospital and Vani Vilas hospital and seeing their poverty, ignorance, helplessness and the death of terminally ill patients sensitized him and taught him to treat them with empathy. He vowed that he would not use his medical knowledge to make money. Several of his classmates went to Kuala Lumpur for the post graduate medical entrance test and passed it; they went to England and America for specialization. CRC decided that he would select a field in which to specialize and study in the country and then would serve common people, especially the poor, by working in a government hospital or by opening a clinic.

In the six and half years of his life in medical college, his sense of inferiority about color and caste disappeared. The college had students from all castes, regions, and religions. All were focused on academics, and only doing well counted. They teased each other without malice, encouraged each other and praised individual achievements. Nobody was belittled for his language, caste, color or class. CRC remembers them with gratitude for the nurturing environment they provided him.