The Gifted Surgeon of Poona

My Grandfather Dr. Mukund Shahade. Chikodi, Belgaum District, State of Mysore (now Karnataka). 1949

IMP Research Intern : Priyanka Balwant Kale, Pune

Image and Narrative Points contributed by Aneesh Shahade, Pune

This photograph of my grandfather Dr. Mukund Shahade was taken in his hometown Chikodi, Belgaum district, in the State of Mysore (now Karnataka) in 1949 when he was barely 17 years old. I find this image so interesting because he is wearing our traditional rural attire to pose for the photo that alludes to his youthful exuberance. My grandfather was fondly called ‘Annasaheb’ by relatives, and later by his patients. 

Born in 1932 in Chikodi village, Belgaum on the current Maharashtra-Karnataka border region, Annasaheb was born in a multilingual environment. My great grandfather Gurunath, was a zamindar (large estate owners) and owned lands in the fertile zone on the banks of River Krishna, where production of cash-crop tobacco was extremely lucrative. The Shahade family was prosperous and socially influential. Gurunath was an ardent supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and agreed to give up his assets to the farmers at the insistence of Congress activists. At the time of Quit India Movement, he whole-heartedly participated in the protests. Unfortunately, he was incarcerated in Poona (now Pune) and then died a tragic death.  Meanwhile, other family members too voluntarily gave up lands to farmers. Post 1947, the Indian Government began to claim its independence by introducing new reforms including land, that included abolition of ‘zamindari’, and many tenants and share-croppers acquired the rights to ownership of land. With Annasaheb’s father away in the prison, some relatives took advantage of my great-grandmother’s illiteracy, and after the division of farmlands, handed over a non-fertile piece of land. 

My great grandmother then decided to take her children to Poona (now Pune) for better education. She had to take monetary help from extended family and at times her children including her son, (my grandfather) Annasaheb had to eat meals at the neighbours’ homes. What exactly made Annasaheb interested in the field of Medicine is unknown but an important factor could be his father’s death that dropped the burden of family responsibilities on his shoulders and being a good medical professional assured him a decent income. 

Annasaheb completed his pre-medical education from S. P. College, Poona and was later awarded a degree in medicine from B. J. Medical College, Ahmedabad (at the time one of the top-most medical colleges in the Subcontinent). After completing Masters in Surgery, he trained in Cardiovascular surgery at CMC Vellore, Tamil Nadu. He worked in the capacity of Dean and Superintendent in public hospitals for the Gujarat government at various locations like Surat, Bardoli and Jamnagar and eventually was reputed to be a highly skilled and one of the youngest civil surgeons in Independent India. His scholarship on the surgical method, ‘Shahade and Shah’ technique was an pioneering alternative to railroad technique of surgical stitching. Not many know that my grandfather Annasaheb was also an incredible artist. Perhaps it helped him to be a better surgeon because he could understand, and draw detailed anatomical diagrams quite well. 

In 1955, Annasaheb’s marriage was fixed with Maya (my grandmother). Maya was the daughter of an influential man Deviprasad Joshi who owned the famous publication house, Joshi and Lokhande Publishers. Although Annasaheb wasn’t from a similar background himself, my great-grandfather, Deviprasad was impressed by his educational qualifications and his reputation as a surgeon and my grandparents were married. Maya was a trained musician who pursued her music education and programs wherever her doctor husband was transferred. My grandfather Annasaheb, was in awe of his wife who knew how to drive cars, taught herself fluent Hindi and had a head for business affairs. 

At the outset of the Indo-Pakistan War in 1971-72, Annasaheb was transferred from Surat Medical College to Jamnagar. Being located in the vicinity of the Indo-Pakistan border was worrisome because of the constant threat to life and frequent air strikes. Fearing the security of his family, my grandparents decided to leave Jamnagar and move to Poona. In Poona, Annasaheb was aided by my grandmother’s relatives who offered him a place to open a clinic and a one-tenement residence. Leaving a decently paying government job and starting his own practice was not easy for Annasaheb, yet he forged on to open a private hospital. My grandmother, Maya too generously supported his ambitions, and sold some of her jewellery to fund the hospital. And so the Shahade hospital was finally built, with his residential flat in the same building. 

My grandparents had vastly different professions, yet their bond was strong and they supported each other. Annasaheb would participate in Mehfils (musical soirees) organised by my grandmother Maya in their home. My grandmother on the other hand, with a proficiency for finance, handled the financial side of their household and hospital matters quite efficiently.

Annasaheb came to be known as an exceptionally worthy surgeon, but a private practice had its own challenges and required a deep understanding of what care his patients would need – especially patients who would travel from far off rural places. And so the ground floor of the hospital was reserved for patients who needed a place to stay for a few days and caring relatives could stay along and cook their own food. Unlike today, fee payments in cash were not the norm and barter economy was. Hence, instead of cash, patients would offer payment in kind- in form of fruits, vegetables or food grains. Having said that, a lack of cash created its own set of hurdles for other hospital expenses. But his patience to build a reputed hospital eventually came to be fulfilled. 

At the peak of his career, my grandfather served many patients from all kinds of backgrounds, including influential thinkers, artists, and historians. The famous sculptor D.S Khatavkar painted my grandparents’ living room with Warli Art and gifted them several beautiful artefacts and paintings that we still have with us today. He would engage in deep intellectual conversations with the eminent Sahitya Akademi award receiver and author G.N.Dandekar. Even his daughter-in-law, my mother, Arati a young doctor, had the fortune of working with him. He taught her all the necessary lessons to be a good doctor and to run a good and respected clinic. In our memory as well as for the medical community, my grandfather ‘Annasaheb’ is still remembered as an affectionate, hard-working, innovative and a  gifted-surgeon.

The addition of this Photo-Narrative to the archive has been made possible due to the generous consideration towards Research Internships by Nazar Foundation, New Delhi.


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