A heart that beat for the poor and intellectuals: Dr KM Cherian remembers Jayalalithaa

Jayalalithaa was pro-poor, she was also pro-intellectuals.
A heart that beat for the poor and intellectuals: Dr KM Cherian remembers Jayalalithaa
A heart that beat for the poor and intellectuals: Dr KM Cherian remembers Jayalalithaa
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Dr KM Cherian

I have known Dr. J. Jayalalithaa from 1988.  When I started my career at Vijaya Hospital, we got a call from the CM’s office that she was coming to the hospital with a patient.  I told them that she need not take the trouble of coming, and that I would visit her.  But she insisted and came with the patient.  She said that all leading cardiologists had advised an open heart surgery but that she wanted one more opinion from a surgeon.  It was at that time that Vijaya Hospital had installed Cardiac Catheterization Lab in a room renovated from a kitchen. 

The then SPG Chief Mr. R.M. Savani rang me up and informed me that the chief minister would be arriving in half an hour with the patient. On examination, I was not convinced that the patient needed an open heart surgery, so we did a cardiac catheterization to rule out the need for surgery.  I told the CM that there was absolutely nothing to worry about the patient’s health and that the patient could stay for just a few hours and resume regular life.  The CM told the patient, “This is Dr. Cherian’s birthday gift to you, that you do not need any surgery”.  This was my first encounter with the Hon’ble Chief Minister.

Photo: Sir Donald Ross, Dr. KM Cherian, Hon’ble CM Selvi J. Jayalalitha and Christiaan Bernard – Inauguration of MMM, Dec 14, 1995  

In 1986, the late Chief Minister Dr. M.G.R gave permission to start The Madras Medical Mission, which was acquired by the Housing Board three times.  But after various stages of his illness and ultimately his demise, we had to pursue the same with his successor Dr. Jayalalithaa.  

When I requested her, she promptly agreed to lay the foundation stone.  During the ceremony, she donated a cheque for Rs. 5, 00,000. She publicly announced that it was her personal contribution towards the cause.  All formalities went on smoothly and all bureaucratic delays were eliminated.  We got full support right: we even got dual power supply for the hospital, up to the compound wall and traffic signal at the junction with street lights beginning from Thirumangalam.   Just two weeks before the inauguration, I informed the Chief Minister that there were nearly 150 foreign delegates visiting but that the road from Thirumangalam to The Madras Medical Mission was narrow and shabby.  Just four days before the inauguration, the entire stretch of road from Thirumangalam to Mogappair was widened and neatly re-laid.  

On 15th February 2004, I had gone to Kerala for the inauguration of our small unit by the then Kerala Chief Minister, Mr. A.K. Antony.  After the inauguration was over, I got a call from CM’s residence. 

 I froze in surprise when I was told that the Hon’ble CM would like to light the lamp and inaugurate Froniter Lifeline at around 11.00 am on 18th. There was barely any time! The next day, I rushed back from Kerala and sought an appointment with the Hon’ble Chief Minister.  Throughout my travel, I was wondering if this Iron Lady would understand my hardships. I wondered if the hard knocks she’d suffered would enable her to understand the plight of someone who had been thrown out with the false accusation of working against society and had now undertaken the herculean task of building another hospital. Humiliation helps people achieve greatness, but the support of great souls paves the way.

Photo : Lighting of the Kuthuvillakku  at  Frontier Lifeline on 18th Feb 2004

When I told her about the limited time in hand, she again surprised me by saying, “You don’t need any advertisement.  I will be there by 11.30 am.”

All arrangements were quickly made to inaugurate Frontier Lifeline Hospital and the Chief Minister promptly reached there at 11.30 am on 18th February 2004.  Her first question to me was, “Do you know why I kept the date as 18th?” I had to guess. I asked whether 9 was her lucky number as most people had suggested. She replied with a smile, “Today is Mahashivaratri and the auspicious time starts now.”  

She looked around the hospital and was impressed.  Her next question was, “Do you want to build a hospital in the city, bigger than this to help more people through your Charitable Trust?  I can help you get 10 acres.”  I replied that I would be unable to build another hospital right then, but would certainly be interested in contributing to medical science by starting a basic medical science park in a village. 

Photo: Few words of appreciation from Hon’ble CM

The next day, I got a call from the Thiruvallur Collector that Madam had instructed him to identify a place in Thiruvallur.   She placed her trust in me with the belief that I would fulfill my duty and never sell the property for whatever consideration. Being a great visionary, she could foresee that this project could become the first medical SEZ in India. This would, in turn, help many people of various strata – not just the poor – but also intellectuals to learn, research and update their knowledge.

Once, I got a call at 6 pm from the CM’s office, informing me that I had to receive Mother Teresa, and accompany her from the airport to the venue of the International Women’s Day celebrations.  I generally accompanied Mother Teresa every time she visited Chennai.

 The next day, when I picked up Mother Teresa, she told me that she could spend time only for 20 minutes at the function and that from there, she had to go for a prayer meeting.  She told me to remind her exactly in 20 minutes.  The meeting started with all dignitaries on the dais.  As instructed, I reminded Mother exactly in 20 minutes.  The Chief Minister turned to me and asked what the purpose was.  When I told her,  the Chief Minister ensured that Mother Teresa left without any further delay.

Everyone knows that Dr Jayalalithaa was pro-poor but not many know that she was also pro-intellectuals. My interactions with her have shown me that the Iron Lady’s heart beat for the intellectual fraternity who, in turn, would do great good for the people of Tamil Nadu. She had the knack of helping the needy by supporting deserving initiatives and the right causes.

Dr KM Cherian is a renowned cardiac surgeon and the Chairman and CEO of Frontier Lifeline Hospital.

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