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Rangaswamy--A Medical Man

N K Srinivasan

Dr Rangaswamy Naidu was a medical genius. After getting several gold medals in his medical
[MBBS] course in Chennai, as a young doctor, he went to England to study surgery.He soon became a
Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, so that he could add FRCS after his name--a coveted title
those days. He was a neuro-surgeon of yester years---1940's.He worked in Guy's Hospital in London for
nearly 10 years. During his researches, he discovered a nerve, unknown then,going to the brain.His
professor was gracious enough to name the nerve after Rangaswamy and include a paragraph about
that nerve in his bulky text book on neurology.

Hailing from a deeply religious family and devoted to his father, who was a math teacher in a local
school in Coimbatore, Dr Ranga returned to India. He joined as assistant professor in the Government
General Hospital, a teaching hospital, in Chennai.He was liked by his students for his flluency and
surgical skills, and above all, for his simplicity.He came to the hospital in a man-drawn rickshaw
which was the common mode of transport in those days.

The State Government started another medical college after Independence [in 1947] at
Coimbatore.Dr Ranga was the natural choice for the post of Principal.Ranga moved to coimbatore. He
had a small ancestral house at Cross Cut Road which he occupied. His father had died a few years
earlier. Ranga went about setting up the facilities in the college and also performing surgery at the
Government Hospital near the big railway station.

Dr. Ranga had a devoted wife Padma who was also highly religious.The couple had no child for many
years now.Padma suggested that they should adopt one of the numerous children of her sister Lakshmi
,who was living in Gopichetty Palayam, a village 10 miles away.Ranga legally adopted Sunita,Lakshmi's
daughter ,when the child was three years old. Sunita lived with Ranga and Padma and went to school in
Coimbatore.

Dr Ranga was a highly respected surgeon in Coimbatore and also a well-known professor of
medicine.His religious activities increased and he always wore the three vertical lines [two white lines
with a central red one] the marks of a Vaishnava ,worshipper of Lord Vishnu.He frequented the Vishnu
temples and listened to hundreds of religious discourses in Chennai and Coimbatore. He used to seek
scholars who could clarify subtle points in the theology of Sri Ramanuja, the medieval saint-philosopher
who bolstered the Vishnu temple worship.The bhakti [devotional] cult suited Ranga 's temperament well
and he told everyone about the glory of bhakti--devotion to a personal God.. He memorised the hymns
of bhakti saints --the twelve Alwars of Tamil Nadu and used to chant often, with his gruff voice, even
during his walks around the corridors of the hospital.

One early morning , Ranga was performing a serious operation in the Operations Theatre for a
patient--a villager whose neck had been injured in a brawl. The patient was in a coma.Ranga had to
connect the nerves going to the brain--- including the nerve named after him--- a procedure he was an
expert in doing --and felt ecstatic after the patient fully recovered from anesthesia.The patient smiled at
Ranga .Ranga felt that he was almost a god. The junior surgeons came to congratulate him outside the
O T, and speak a few words of praise.Elated, but tired due to standing for nearly three hours, Ranga
came to his room and sat for a while.He wanted to go home and do some pooja [worship] , immediately
got into his tiny Morris Minor car and drove back home.
He took bath as usual and wore his caste marks,wrapped himself in a silk dhoti [waist cloth] and
started his chant. He almost became senseless and withdrawn.He did not notice Padma ,standing with a
cup of coffee in her hands.She did not want to disturb him.Ranga saw a blinding light.When his eyes
became normal, he saw a thin ,pale saintly figure appearing before him, smiling to him and telling
"Come To Me".A sense of peace and joy engulfed Ranga.Slowly Ranga came to his awareness---took
the cup of coffee from Padma and took a few sips.Padma noticed a profound glow on the face of Ranga
's jet -black face and his body was profusely sweating with tears streaming from his eyes. Padma was
visibly shaken and brought a cloth towel to wipe his face and his chest.Padma surmised that her
beloved husband was very tired after the surgical work at the hospital.She brought his routine breakfast
of two idlies on a plate.Ranga did not tell her about the vision or mystic encounter, but said: "
Ammani,I am a bit tired.I will take coffee,but idlies later", and went to the bedroom and lied down.
The picture of the white saintly figure haunted him and he wanted to find out who he was..He took a
book about Vaishnava saints and looked at the pictures some artist had drawn.No one had photogpahed
or drawn portraits of these 5th or 6th century saints.But Ranga delighted himself looking at those
pictures.

Ranga returned to the College by afternoon and attended a music program ,put up by the students.
He kept smiling thoroughout and distributed the prizes to winning students. Ranga became withdrawn
from that day and was not able to focus on his lectures or the surgery. He managed to give short
lectures,treasured by his eager students.He stopped performing surgery, but helped to train the
students and junior doctors at the OT.
After a few days he said to Padma:"Ammani, I have stopped performing surgery in the hospital".
Padma asked: "Why so?"
Ranga slowly told: " Well--enough is enough...I have performed more than 2000 operations ..Is that
not enough? It is my duty to train others--let them do the operations." ---Padma understood.She
reasoned that Ranga is not able to stand and do the work for several hours--he had become weak.She
recalled how he profusely sweated that day after the pooja.
His faculty and junior surgeons noticed that Ranga was asking others to do all the surgery.
They murmurred and one senior professor asked him why he was not doing it.Ranga gave the same
reply he gave to Padma.That silenced them.Further he was the Principal and Chief Surgeon at the
hospital.No one can question him.Ranga, however, was always present in the early hours at OT's.
It was nearly one month after his pooja experience .Ranga had not touched his knife and scalpel
for several weeks.He was beside with inner joy.His students noticed a glow in his dark face, but
demurred that that was because he is taking more rest , not doing any surgery or may be he is taking
alcohol or because he had taken a young woman.!

Ranga on his part was talking to various persons about spiritual experiences of Alwars and other
saints and frequented main temples near Thirunelveli--the Vishnu shrines. He came to meet me in my
College where I was teaching some engineering subjects [sometime in 1982].I was about forty years
old--very young.My colleague Sounderarajan brought Ranga into my office room. I had just then
returned after teaching a class. The figure of Ranga was intriguing..dressed in a dhoti and thin
shirt,with bright caste marks highlighting his black face, he spoke about his devotions and wanted to
know more about the Alwars. I had scanty knowledge and told him a few things which I hardly
remember now.As a matter of courtesy, I got three cups of coffee for us..I noticed that Ranga was in
tears , hearing about the Alwars.I was surprised that an FRCS , Principal of a medical college, sitting in
my room savouring the devotional fervour of saints who lived nearly 13 centuries ago.He left after
about an hour and I felt shaken.

Sunita was growing tall,thin and attractive. She attended a local college for her degree in "Home
Science" ---whatever that means.This college,meant for women only,was started by an enterprising
young Christian lady ,who wanted to spread education there.Padma was keen on getting Sunita
married.That was easy.She picked one of the young doctors of Naidu family who used to visit their
home--a Ranga student.Sunita agreed and a simple wedding ceremony, according to the dictates of
Ranga ,was performed in the famous Ranganatha temple in Karamadai,30 miles from Coimbatore.

Ranga gave his ancestral house [at Cross Cut Road] to his son-in-law Dr Suresh as part of wedding
gift or dowry....Sunita,her husband and Padma stayed there.Ranga moved to a small government
quarters allotted to faculty near the college.The only asset he had now was a mud house in his native
village ,40 miles away.
Ranga spent lot of time talking to students and junior faculty,not only about medical advances,but also
narrating the lives of Vaishnava saints. Many senior faculty members gently avoided his
company.Young students loved and idolized Ranga.Out of his salary, ranga formed a fund for three
scholarships for poor,deserving students in his father's name.

Ranga's growing dispassion ['vairagya' as it is called] was noticed by many friends.He spent only
about an hour in the hospital,that too for serious surgical cases.He gave only two hours of lectures
every week.He even thought of early retirement, but his senior faculty persuaded him to stay. At about
this time,the chief minister of the state , a former film actor who had close contact with many friends in
Coimbatore,wanted to appoint Dr Ranga as the Director-General of Medical Services {DGMS} at the
state level. Ranga politely declined the offer.

Ranga spent several days in pligrimage to Vaishnava shrines in the other states.After all, he had
months of 'earned leave' which he had not used.Padma accompanied him in many tours except those
involving climbing hills as she had advanced condition of arthritis. Ranga told Padma that he would
make a long trip to those places in the North roamed about by saints--Rishikesh,Haridwar and others.
Padma gave a tearful farewell at the railway station.Many of the faculty and local surgeons came to see
him off.Ranga travelled in second [ Janata] class.

Ranga was overjoyed seeing the turbulent stream of Ganga in Hrishikesh,the Valley of Saints, from
a gorge up the hills, purifyng one's body and mind in each dip.He saw several sadhus in frailed body
,but with smiling faces.Was he seeing his own image in them? Ranga thought of starting a home for the
destitutes there ---destitues by design or accident--and also a small dispensary.After all, he was a
doctor ,a FRCS- who could spot diseases of the body. But he always saw healthy,cheerful sadhus every
day. For some he felt a kinship and veneration that he used to bend and touch their feet.
One day he went to Madan Mohana temple---an old Krishna temple on the other side of the river--
across the Lakshman Jula--the hanging bridge.
When he entered ,he met an old smiling sadhu in ochre robe,calling him: "Oh Yes, You have come---
what is your name?" Ranga replied: "They call me Rangaswamy".
The sadhu: " What were you doing all these years?"
Ranga: " I was a doctor--a surgeon".
The sadhu: " I see, you were cutting up bodies and seeing the inside of it" and laughed aloud.He
added: "Alright,Go around the temple and come here."
Ranga circumambulated the temple, seeing the colorful murals on the wall depicting the leelas or sport
of Madana Mohana.
He came again to the front of the temple and touched the feet of the Sadhu.The sadhu then took him
inside the temple and waved the light in front of the deity and pressed sandal paste on his
forehead..The bewitching beauty of the idol posessed Dr Ranga.
They both stepped outside .The bright sun was almost a blinding light.The sadhu gave Ranga a book, "
Srimad Bhagawat".He told Ranga to read and come back after a week.Like a school boy,Ranga
clutched the book and went to his room in a choultry nearby. After a week, Ranga met the sadhu again.
The sadhu smiled and asked:" What do you feel now,Ran-ga-swa-my".
Ranga replied : "I feel a sense of peace".
The sadhu, apparently educated in missionary schools ,said: "The Peace that passeth
understanding,right" .
Ranga could not speak,but nodded his head gently.
Now the sadhu commanded him: " Go, sit there on that rock facing the Mother Ganga".
Ranga went to the river edge and sat on the rock.The sunlight was overpowering.He saw a small boy
floating on the river,coming towards him,with a bewitching smile.Ranga smiled and fell ---fell into the
arms of beloved Mother Ganga.

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[Note : The story is based on accounts of some of my friends and my own meeting with a great
doctor.The names are altered..Much of the details are fictional.]