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