Why a group of people still gather in T’Puram to honour Dr Pinto who died 14 years ago

A beloved government doctor, a political activist and writer, Dr Pinto battled the rare motor neuron disease for five years.
Why a group of people still gather in T’Puram to honour Dr Pinto who died 14 years ago
Why a group of people still gather in T’Puram to honour Dr Pinto who died 14 years ago
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Dr Ajitkumar G enters with a smile. With him are his friends Venugopal and Betnesoul. This reporter, waiting for them at the Trivandrum Hotel in Thiruvananthapuram – a regular hangout for those who think ‘outside the box’ – starts with the question: why is Dr C Pinto still remembered so fondly?

Dr Ajitkumar sits back and begins talking about Pinto, a physician who died at the age of 35 from the rare motor neuron disease. Diagnosed one in a lakh people, it’s a medical condition that leads to motor paralysis.

Dr Pinto died 14 years ago on July 5 after battling the disease for five years. Since then, every year his friends gather to honour him. The Pinto commemoration has become an annual cultural event in the city with scholars invited to deliver lectures. This year, Tony Joseph, author of Early Indians, delivered the Pinto lecture on Friday at the city’s Mascot Hotel.

Dr Pinto was a writer, orator, political activist and a popular government doctor who had always worked for the downtrodden.

“Pinto was the first one in the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College campus who dared to begin political activism. He started the SFI unit there, in an environment where students used to keep themselves away from Left students’ politics. A loss like Pinto’s is irrecoverable,” says Ajitkumar.

“For me, the loss is a personal one; he was a connecting link between likeminded people who studied in various campuses at that time. He would rush to a friend in case of any urgency, he treated people equally irrespective of their positions,” says Betnesoul.

Hailing from an ordinary family in a village in Varkala near Thiruvananthapuram, Pinto was the son of Chellappan Achary and Shailaja Ammal. Shaijala Ammal was a nursing assistant at the Medical College where her son later joined MBBS. Though belonging to a Hindu family, a progressive Shailaja named her eldest son Pinto.

Pinto joined MBBS in 1987. His classmate Dr A Sajeed recalls, “His contribution in transforming an apolitical campus into a political one is irrefutable. He began organising protests and gatherings, he himself would prepare a press statement for the meetings with such perfection that not a single line needed to be edited. He could sing, write, orate with equal ease.” Dr Sajeed is currently Superintendent of the Regional Cancer Centre, Thiruvananthapuram.

A beloved doctor

Dr Pinto began his career in a private hospital and later worked in government service for five years. He served in Bharathannur, a village in Thiruvananthapuram, as well as in the coastal village of Vizhinjam.

It was after years that the Bharathannur government health centre got a doctor who actually served the people. “The doctors who were posted there earlier would somehow manage to get transfer to city areas. The patients would take medicines from the pharmacy without being attended to by a doctor,” says Bharathannur Shameer, a journalist who is now working in the UAE, over phone.

“Dr Pinto first enhanced the hospital infrastructure, he would talk to the locals to know the history and culture of the region. He fought with the panchayat authorities to construct a hospital building. Finally when the building was inaugurated, he got transferred to Vizhinjam due to political interference,” Shameer recollects.

Dr Pinto worked at Bharathannur for four years. As a tribute, some locals made a docu-fiction on him titled Oru Desham Oralodu Cheythathu. Shameer wrote the screenplay for the film, which was exhibited at Kerala’s famed International Film Festival in 2006. At the Bharathannur hospital, a garlanded photograph of Dr Pinto can still be seen.

A passion for writing

Dr Pinto penned four novels, short stories and numerous poems. One of his novels is based on his life in Bharathannur, which he titled Bhagavannur Parayunnathu (What Bhagavannnur says). His other novels are Shaithaym, Agniye Chumbicha Chitharsalabham and Viral Sparsham. While most of his poems and short stories remained unpublished, the published ones are Pintoyude Kathakal and Pintoyude Kavithakal.

Pinto’s wife, Dr Betsy Mani, wrote Bhagavannur Parayunnathu for him as he wasn’t able to write by that time, one of the disabilities caused by his disease. The novel was published after his death.

“What I did was only write… the words, ideas, everything was his,” says Betsy.

Betsy is a dentist and the couple has two daughters, Annapoorna, who is studying medicine, and Anasuya, who is preparing for NEET.

Betsy and Pinto met in 1992 during a poetry competition when in college. The contestants were asked to write a poem on winter. “Pinto instantly wrote a poem that took everyone by surprise. Later we met a few times accidently. I was junior to him and studied in the dental college that was in another campus, but his activities in college had made him popular. When I first met him, I felt like I already knew him,” Betsy says. They married in December 1996.

The disease was diagnosed in 2000. Pinto’s disabilities due to the disease began to increase in the years that followed. He slowly lost the ability to talk, walk, and later even to move.

“My children were also young then, I began taking care of Pinto as my eldest child. Pinto had charted a path for the years he had left, we built a house after the disease was diagnosed, and he started writing extensively,” Betsy, who has remarried, says.

Dr Ajitkumar recalls that Pinto didn’t given up even while he had a clear understanding of the disease and how many years he had left. “He talked about Stephen Hawking (who also had MND) and showed an equal fighting spirit. He was even prepared to live on a ventilator, for that was how much he loved life.”

“He faced it strongly but we couldn’t give him a long life and we are still sad about that,” says Dr Sajeed. 

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