© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Sir, we are screwed. The Chief Minister and other ministers have closed all doors, they won’t respond. Our careers are in grave danger. Can you please help us?” I frantically spoke.
From the other end of the phone, the Don, Dr. Nitu Mandke answered: “See me at my home at 12 midnight”.
The Maharashtra state resident doctor’s agitation for dignity, national pay parity and better living conditions was on, and I was given the responsibility of coordinating and being the face. We had successfully established a multilevel network.
When students go on a strike anywhere in any field, it is almost always out of desperation, either for dignity or for rebellion against some sort of suppression by the system. Students never rebel for money or power. This raw student power is almost as mighty as the army, and although it falls prey to political misuse sometimes, it has tremendous capacity towards achieving intellectual evolution of the society. The government always treats any unrest as an offence to its ego, and uses everything at its disposal: CID, Police, Administration, Force, Threats, Caste Politics, Cheating and Legal torture to mow down student agitations. Students have no money, no experience and rare political or social backing, and must unite and stand up for themselves. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
On the fourth day of the strike, a big politico from the ruling alliance came over to our office at Mumbai KEM. There was no telling between him and a mafia goon. The members of student’s central committee: Dr. Sanjay Singh, Dr. Dinesh Kabra, Dr. Narender Sheshadri, Dr. Pramod Giri, Dr. Nilesh Nikam, Dr. Kuldeep, Dr. Vishal Sawant, Dr. Noor, Dr. Shahid, and few others were with me. The politico did not have any scruples using an arrogant, raw and filthy language to threaten that if we do not stop and withdraw the strike, our careers and even life will be in danger. As he was from the ruling party and threatened us in presence of the police, there was nothing we could say.
There are angels everywhere. A senior police officer who was supposed to “keep a constant watch” upon us ‘student leaders’ was quite fatherly. He told us “Do what you must, but don’t declare. Dumb people cannot interpret silence. Stay away from any violence”. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Unknown calls kept threats alive. That is when a resident doctor suggested we meet the Don: Dr. Nitu Mandke, the famous heart surgeon who was known to be a fearless, straightforward celebrity doctor.
We went to his home, and waited, hosted by his extremely courteous family. He returned home past midnight. We briefed him the details. He asked a few questions to assess our determination and strength. He asked us to stay united and avoid any misbehaviour during the agitation. To our surprise, he picked up the cellphone and called the Chief Minister’s PA. The CM was fortunately available, and talked to Dr. Mandke. © Dr. Rajas Deshpande
After the call, Dr. Mandke told us: “CM has advised us to meet the Deputy CM tomorrow. Two of you come to Lilavati Hospital tomorrow at 2 PM. I will take you to the DyCM.”.
At Lilavati hospital, Dr. Mandke’s chamber was intimidatingly clean and posh, yet simple. He checked our applications for the CM and corrected them with his beautiful pen. His briefcase had every essential of writing stationary, the mark of a perfect man.
As we waited, I asked him cautiously: “Sir, shall we start?” He replied that he was waiting for someone to carry the bag on his table. I offered that I will carry it. He laughed his thunderous laugh, and looked at us as if we were small puppies. “ Deshpandyaa, that bag has two and a half crore rupees cash for construction of my hospital. A professional bodyguard will carry it. People kill for that. Do you want to carry it?”. I shut up.
In his big car, for the 45 minutes that his bodyguard drove us to the DyCM, I asked Dr. Nitu Mandke questions about what was going through his mind when he was actually operating the Shiv Sena Supremo Mr. Balasaheb Thackeray. Such an enormous pressure it must have been!
“Oh yes, it was stressful. But he is a gentleman, and he had assured my safety. His word is enough”.© Dr. Rajas Deshpande.
That’s when we told him how some politicos had threatened us recently. He laughed and replied something that has been tattooed upon my cortex permanently:
“Rajas, a doctor is a doctor and king of lives forever. Politicos come and go. Idiots misbehave with others when the have any post or power, in any field. You should not budge. It is pathetic to see doctors licking shoes of those in power, under various pretexts. It is up to you to maintain your dignity and pride. That is the true luxury, everyone cannot afford it. So long as you do the right thing, fear nothing. The few crores in that bag is nothing compared to how I feel about myself”.
We entered the VIP zone and bungalow. His car was not stopped anywhere. The DyCM offered us tea, and gave us a patient listening.
“These junior doctors and students are my boys, our own boys, they will look after the health of our people tomorrow. You must help them” Dr. Mandke insisted. The DyCM assured he will. The spell was broken, talks resumed.
Many twists and turns later, one of the most memorable strikes was called off.
A year later, I saw a white Lexus car in our KEM campus at Mumbai. Fond of cars and having never touched a Lexus, I went to see it from a close distance. Just as I tried to touch it, the driver’s window rolled down, and I heard “Deshpandyaa, open the door and come in. Do you like my new car?”
And I sat besides the King of proud men, one of the most proficient Cardiac Surgeons, Dr. Nitu Mandke, in his Lexus. The feeling is unforgettable, not only for the Lexus, but for his simplicity, love and affection for a ‘nobody’, a junior doctor like myself!
Needless to say, then onwards, I have guarded my dignity and pride as a doctor more than any other possession I have. That took away many opportunities and huge finances, still I am doing quite well by God’s grace, and Dr. Mandke’s blessings.
How I feel about myself is more precious than anything I can earn. The luxury of pride is mine.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
Dedicated to all students, resident doctors, proud people in every field, student unions and their apolitical fearless leaders.
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