Indar Kumar Dhawan (22 June 1930–4 June 2021)
With the passing away of Professor Indar Kumar Dhawan, popularly known as IKD, the surgical fraternity and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi (AIIMS) family has lost a renowned surgeon and a greatly admired human being. He belonged to a fast dwindling number of general surgeons, who could with great skill and expertise do almost any type of surgery. His field of expertise ranged from general surgery, surgical oncology, renal transplant, plastic and reconstructive surgery, and craniofacial operations. His range of operative surgery was mind-boggling and what’s more he excelled in all of them. He was a brilliant teacher, a great thinking mind, researcher and accomplished administrator, liked by one and all.
He was born in 1930 in Shimla to Dropdi Devi and Rai Bahadur Badri Lal Dhawan and was the fourth of nine siblings. His father worked for the Ministry of Defence. He was his mother’s favourite with the nickname of Bhola, so true to his nature as an adult. It is said that persons born on 22 June (shared with Steve Jobs), under the sign of Cancer, are well known for great artistic abilities and a strong drive to succeed. They possess a stubborn streak, are dedicated perfectionists with a never-say-no attitude. How true for our IKD!
His early schooling was in Shimla and Delhi, followed by Intermediate at F.C. College in Lahore. They moved to Bombay as it was then called, during the Partition. He did his MBBS and MS (Surgery) from the famous Grant Medical College in Mumbai, winning numerous awards and gold medals. Not only was he a brilliant student, but was also a keen sportsman, excelling in football for his college.
After his Master of Surgery from Grant Medical College, he shifted to Delhi in 1958 and joined as a surgical registrar at Irwin Hospital, the largest and most prominent hospital of Delhi at that time. He worked with Dr K.C. Mahajan and Dr S.K. Sen, two top surgeons of that period and impressed them and others alike, with his hard work, sound clinical judgement and surgical skill. It was at the Irwin Hospital that he met his future wife, Dr Sushila Sarin, who had returned from the UK. They got married in 1961. Dr Sushila Dhawan later joined the faculty of Anaesthesiology at the AIIMS.
In 1961, he joined AIIMS as Assistant Professor in Surgery and was attached to Professor B.N.B. Rao’s unit. His hard work, clinical judgement, surgical skill, interest in research, and teaching abilities, were rewarded by promotion to Associate Professor (present day Additional Professor) in 1970. He was also given independent charge of Surgical Unit II.
In 1966, he was awarded the senior commonwealth fellowship to the UK to train in the field of renal transplantation under the legendary Sir Roy Calne. On returning back to the AIIMS, he put his heart and soul in starting a renal transplantation unit. Starting a new, technically demanding and multidisciplinary venture was a Herculean job. Working against many odds, his team succeeded in doing the first kidney transplant in northern India. What was even more impressive was that having successfully started transplant surgery at the AIIMS, he selected younger colleagues and sent them for training to the UK, so that kidney transplantation becomes an upgraded new specialty.
Dr Dhawan was a true general surgeon, excelling in different areas but by his own choice, he developed a keen interest in plastic and reconstructive surgery, largely to manage advanced head and neck cancers, the commonest cancer in our country. He developed different types of flaps, which are acknowledged in the book on flaps. Another area that was developed was a link up with dental surgery and ENT, for a joint approach to manage cleft lips and palate. He was also one of very few surgeons to do surgical corrections of cranial abnormalities in children.
Professor I.K. Dhawan was regarded as a very fine teacher, greatly admired by both undergraduates and postgraduates. He was the first Sub-Dean (Academics) of AIIMS, which gave him the opportunity to organize and streamline medical teaching.
In 1979, he was promoted as Professor of Surgery and became head of the Department of Surgery from 1982 till he retired in 1988. His wide-ranging expertise in different surgical fields brought him into the limelight in Indian and international societies. He was honoured with the presidentship of the Delhi State Chapter of Surgery, Plastic Surgery Association of India and Indian Society of Oncology.
Professor Dhawan was a prolific writer and authored a Textbook of Surgery for undergraduate students. He published numerous scientific papers in various national and international journals.
Hard work and dedication brought about recognition and honours. These included the Sandoz Oration for Cancer Research by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), and Fellowship of the National Academy of Sciences. He was also honoured by being appointed as Surgeon to the President of India. For a man of science, he was also a religious person in his own way, by being an active member of the Arya Samaj. He was lately working on writing a book on Gandhi Ji.
He was involved with surgical training in India and was closely associated with development of the National Board of Examinations. He was an examiner for undergraduate and postgraduate students in universities in India and for Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (Glasgow) in Abu Dhabi.
After superannuating from the AIIMS, he was appointed as consultant surgeon in Mafraq Hospital, Abu Dhabi from 1988 to 1996, and was Chairman of the Department of Surgery at that hospital during the same tenure.
After coming back to India from Abu Dhabi, he was appointed as Chairman of Surgery at Batra Hospital, New Delhi. He was also a coordinator for the Diplomate of the National Board programme at Batra Hospital. Simultaneously, he was Senior Surgical Consultant at Sitaram Bhartia Hospital, New Delhi. He continued to visit the surgical department at the AIIMS to interact with the faculty.
Professor IKD was undoubtedly one of the most popular and admired surgeons, and excelled as a teacher, researcher and organizer. But over and above, he was an exceptionally great human being, with love for all and malice for none. His passing away has left a huge void that will be difficult to fill.
May God give well deserved Sadgati to his soul.