DHAIRYASHEEL, MY FRIEND
I distinctly remember when and where I first saw Dhairyasheel. It was July 1983 and I was studying in the library of Grant Medical College, Bombay (now Mumbai) for my first MBBS finals, when a slightly portly guy walked past. ‘That’s the brains of his class’, whispered a friend who was sitting next to me. Dhairyasheel was preparing for his final MBBS examinations and indeed, was ‘brains’.
We met each other soon after and became friends. You would, perhaps, expect me to write in this obituary, about what a wonderful surgeon and teacher Dhairyasheel was. As it turns out, I never saw him operating and he never formally taught me surgery. But I knew from his colleagues that he was an extremely competent surgeon.
I, however, got to know the fun side of him. He was responsible for inviting me to my first youth festival—where our college ultimately won the trophy for best participation! He (and his friends, all of whom are leaders in their respective fields today) invited me to many picnics, plays and get-togethers, showing that the serious business of medical studies could also always accommodate playfulness. I distinctly recall him advising me to see the movie Top Gun on the screen and not on TV, to enjoy the special effects. I was unable to then—but shall make up for it by seeing Top Gun: Maverick on the screen soon.
Like me, he trained at the Tata Memorial Hospital. I recall his telling me about a doctor-patient of his from Bihar. Dhairyasheel was the resident in the Head and Neck unit when the patient came to the hospital for surgery for an oral cancer. A few months later, this patient turned up for plastic surgery related to the first operation and was pleasantly surprised to see Dhairyasheel in the plastic surgery unit (because of the surgical rota). When he landed up some time later in urology for a new complaint and again found Dhairyasheel there (because of the rota, of course!), he was convinced that he was being taken care of by the most important surgeon in the hospital, someone who was omnipresent!
My last message to Dhairyasheel was on his birthday in 2021. I had asked him ‘60 is the new 40? 59 is the new 39?’ as I was not sure if it was his 59th or 60th birthday. ‘Yep. Mind over matter’, he had replied—leaving me to figure out what that meant!
Perhaps one of the few things I learned about surgery from Dhairyasheel was this: we were talking to each other on the staircase of Tata Memorial Hospital and (I forget how this came up now, after this 30-year period) he said: ‘If I have a sudden bleeder on the table, I have to act immediately. I can’t afford to wait and analyse things—the patient could die.’ My respect for surgeons increased dramatically after I realized that what he had just told me, was quite true. But I doubt that he would ever have had to agonize over such potential problems.
He was, after all, Dhairya-sheel.
Many doctors in India practise medicine in difficult areas under trying circumstances and resist the attraction of better prospects in western countries and elsewhere. They die without their contributions to our country being acknowledged.
The National Medical Journal of India wishes to recognize the efforts of these doctors. We invite short accounts of the life and work of a recently deceased colleague by a friend, student or relative. The account in about 500 to 1000 words should describe his or her education and training and highlight the achievements as well as disappointments. A photograph should accompany the obituary.