The NMJI

VOLUME 18, NUMBER 6

NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 2005

Obituary

Arvind M. Pai [PDF]
(4 February 1936–26 April 2005)

Dr Arvind M. Pai, pathologist, blood banker, eye banker and philanthropist—and my father—passed away suddenly of a myocardial infarction on 26 April 2005. His father, once a rich man in Mangalore, lost his wealth in the depression of the 1930s and relocated to Bombay (Mumbai). Because of his extremely modest background, it was my father’s childhood dream to own, as an adult, 60 pairs of shoes and a Mercedes Benz.
By the time he was a medical student at Seth G.S. Medical College and K.E.M. Hospital, Bombay, however, my father had realized that he was in a field that gave him an opportunity to change the lot of those who were more unfortunate than him. His role models in medicine included Dr A.V. Baliga, the famous surgeon, and a distant relative. A greater influence on him (and later, on me: http://careerfocus.bmjjournals.com/cgi/content/full/325/7363/S77) was his brother-in-law, Dr K.V. Pai, a leading general practitioner from Madras (Chennai) from the 1930s to 1970s. Like many of his friends, my father passed the ECFMG examinations. However, he then chose to stay back in India rather than emigrate. He opted for pathology rather than obstetrics, his favourite subject, because he believed he was not cut out for emergencies—or for getting up in the middle of the night to deliver babies!
  In his early days, he had many attachments including one at Tata Memorial Hospital (where I studied and worked much later) but gradually gave them up for lack of time. He would have liked to do academic pathology in a medical college but found the salary too little to support his family. Thus, he started a private practice, but kept up to date with developments in his field and also managed to publish a few case reports (one of which is quoted in a book, to his great pleasure), which is creditable for someone in private practice.
  Helping people in distress, however, was his greatest interest and he found ways of doing it, either by not charging for housecalls or by reducing his charges for policemen, postmen and others. His activities got a better focus in the 1980s, when the Arpan Foundation was created by the Karia family. The Arpan blood bank was their first venture and Dr A.M. Pai was the logical choice for first president. (He donated blood for the first time on his eighteenth birthday and continued doing so regularly for the next 50 years, thus donating over 150 times.)
  After 8 years of running a successful blood bank, the group decided—because of government regulations on space, etc.—to convert it into an eye bank. Running a stand-alone eye bank without an attached hospital and in the non-governmental sector was not an easy task. With perseverance and some good luck, however, the group succeeded. Subsequent activities included adult education; and collection of clothes, unexpired(!) medicines, spectacles and other items for distribution around the country. For the past decade or so, Arpan was his first interest; his own laboratory was clearly the second. His dreams at Arpan were to collect 10 000 eyeballs and to reach out to every district in India. He came close to achieving the first—the eye bank has collected over 8500 eyeballs so far.
  He enjoyed reading; Alistair Maclean was a great favourite, though the bulk of his reading—and the only reading in the last 20 years—was related to philosophy and religion. His other loved books included Napoleon Hill’s The law of success, Thomas A. Kempes’ The imitation of Christ, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations, Emerson’s Essays, Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads.
  He shunned publicity, a facet I believe was probably influenced by Lloyd C. Douglas’s Magnificent obsession. Over the past few decades or so, however, he accepted that the only way he could raise funds was by informing people about the work that his organizations were doing. I think this was at least partly because of my insistence over the years. He was awarded the 2003 Jamnalal Bajaj Council for Fair Business Practices Award. This made him the first doctor in India to receive such an award and he was justifiably proud of it. He richly deserved it. Among other traits, he always welcomed new pathologists and treated them as new young colleagues and helped them with their teething troubles, rather than view them as competitors. In his honour, two days after he passed away, the Rotary Club of Mumbai Ghatkopar (of which he was an honorary member) instituted a Service Above Self Award, named after him, to be given annually to a citizen of Ghatkopar who displayed these sterling qualities.
  Two things about him stood out: his ability to remember dates and wish people on special occasions such as birthdays; and his ability to find time for people who had any kind of problem. He coupled these qualities with a prodigious letter-writing output. For many people, he was the most unforgettable person they ever met.
  While I was doing my postgraduation in pathology, I kept hearing from him about how the autopsies they performed were more complete and better documented than what we were then doing in the late 1980s. I was convinced that this was an example of the ‘golden age’—and actually looked up his postmortem reports of a quarter of a century before—only to discover to my chagrin that he was absolutely correct!
Besides me, he is survived by his wife, Chitra, daughter Anjali and our families. My mother was a great supporter of his work; he proudly told everyone that his achievements were possible only because of her. Thousands of friends and people, particularly those in the districts that he did not manage to reach in his lifetime, will also miss him. Perhaps the line that sums him up best is the one I came across in another of his favourite books, Light from many lamps, a few hours after his death: A man’s true wealth is the good he does in this world (Mohammed).

SANJAY A. PAI
Department of Pathology
Manipal Hospital
Bangalore
Karnataka
s_pai@vsnl.com

 

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