“Nothing to worry about…..What I would advise you is…..” were the opening words with which my dad, Dr. N.G.K. Sharma would invariably address his patients after examining them. And as the HOD and Professor of Medicine at Goa Medical College, people came from far beyond the borders of Goa for his comforting words and soothing touch!
Some people are born to be doctors; my dad, is undoubtedly one of them. Born in a humble family, there were hardly any means to encourage even basic education; so whenever dad used to tell us children(and it was pretty often, trust me) that “in my time we used to walk miles to school in hot sun and heavy rains, with no footwear and one uniform…” it was clichéd but so true. And with such a background, to dream of becoming a doctor, was at best a wild dream. But however wild it was, dream he did; and through sheer hard work, determination and his father’s belief in him, he became one of only a handful from Udupi, Karnataka, to get a seat at the Medical College in, what was then the Madras Presidency. After his MD and a stint or two of working in a couple of hospitals, he moved to the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu (as it was then) in 1969 – a place we all fell in love with, not so much for its stereotyped calendar images of ‘sun and sand, beaches and booze’, but for its quiet, quaint charm, for its warm sunny people, for the many wonderful friends that we made there.
And this was where dad gained his reputation as a disciplined, humble, unassuming man of principles, a highly respected teacher and a doctor with the golden touch. No, his patients didn’t turn to gold! But many of them had a second golden chance at life under his care. Scores of them, although written off by others, went on to live a fairly normal life by following his advise and treatment. A few times I’ve wondered aloud what he would have been if not a doctor. While dad cannot imagine ever being anything else, I do indulge a bit in imagining if he could have been, well….maybe an artist? Because he had an excellent hand for drawing and in his young days he had a bulging portfolio full of the most exquisite sketches of landscapes and portraits of well-known personalities. Or, maybe he could have been an actor! After his ‘blink and you miss’ role in a film with actor Amol Palekar, dad claims that the director was full of praise for his acting talents!!
Dad was never swayed by all the popularity and the name that he earned . He treated all his patients with the same degree of respect and compassion- whether they were fish mongers, vegetable vendors, political bigwigs or the Bollywood actors who came to Goa on film shoots. We did have a couple of the latter, who (while shooting in Goa) visited our apartment in ‘Junta House’; they were apparently recommended to him for his medical advice. I’ll never forget the time when dad announced quite casually at the dinner table one night, that the actor Amjad Khan had been admitted in his care with a sudden heart attack on the film sets; and Amitabh Bachchan had dropped by the hospital that morning to check on him! While the rest of the family gazed at dad speechlessly, I (always the eloquent one) fell off my chair screeching excitedly.One might wonder what was the big deal…..well… Big B was the big deal!!
Punctual to a fault we could and still can, set our clocks by him. An admirable trait no doubt, but definitely a nightmare for the staff and students at the Hospitals where he worked. But to his credit he never actually admonished anyone for their laziness or tardiness. He led by example. His students always said that in the lecture hall too, Prof. Sharma never raised his voice – he didn’t have to. One stern look would generally suffice! People have to think twice when they fix an appointment with him; he’s sure to be there, on the dot! Sometimes this did lead to embarrassing but hilarious situations.Like the time he was invited as the Chief Guest at a function. Dad arrived at the venue on time (of course), and finding no one at the entrance, proceeded into the auditorium and took his seat. After a quarter of an hour, up came a portly person and instructed dad to move a couple of rows behind as the front seats were reserved for dignitaries and the judges. Apparently the chap was one of the latter. Meanwhile the organizers arranged themselves in the front lobby with bouquets and cameras and the works; until one of them by chance noticed the chief guest already seated. After some embarrassed laughter and hasty discussions later, dad was requested to exit from the side door and re-enter to a formal welcome!!
Although these days he takes refuge behind exaggerated claims of a failing memory, it hasn’t lost its edge. Among other things, he can still tell you the shortest and fastest way to get to a place which he might have visited a mere couple of times years ago, with precise instructions as to where one might find a road hump here or a tricky road bend there! We call him our GPS!!
In 1991, at the height of his career as one of the most sought-after doctors in Goa, dad felt the call of his native land keenly and made the tough decision to take voluntary retirement and move back to Udupi, to be closer to his siblings and other relations. From then until 2011, when unforeseen circumstances forced him to retire completely, dad continued doing what he was meant to do – giving back health and trying to improve the quality of life of people who consulted him.
Well… I could go on.. and on! But when I started out today morning, I wasn’t planning on a biography. All I wanted to do was to put together a few incidents and events that would reflect some facets of my dad’s wonderful personality, and I did it on a ‘first come first serve basis’ as they flitted into my mind while drafting this piece. And as my dad steps into his 82nd year today, I dedicate it to him as a birthday gift.
Happy Birthday Dad……and wish you many more , with good health, happiness and loving moments with family and friends.