The late Director of Tata Memorial Hospital, Dr Ketayun Dinshaw, has left behind a 13 year-long legacy of innovation, discipline and success, as the tributes that follow her death attest. We dropped by at the hospital to find that her pioneering work, which was recognised internationally too, has left the institution with big shoes to fill
Death often makes people switch sides, turning the most virulent critics of the deceased into supporters, and lampoons into paeans.
But it seems unlikely that the rich tributes being paid to the late Dr Ketayun Dinshaw, who headed cancer-care hub, Tata Memorial Hospital at Parel for 13 years, are the result of any rose-tinted nostalgia.
Dr Rohini Kelkar, Dr Shyam Shrivastava, Dr Sarbani Ghosh-Laskar,
colleagues of the late director of Tata Memorial Hospital,
Dr Ketayun Dinshaw, recall their time with her.
Proof: Dr Rajiv Sarin, Director, Advanced Centre for Treatment Research & Education in Cancer (ACTREC), offered to cancel his plans to travel to the research campus at Khargar to accommodate our request to visit him at the Parel centre on a Friday morning, saying simply, "Anything for Madam."
Ironically, 'Madam', as everyone we spoke to addressed Dinshaw as, lost the battle to cancer of the gall bladder herself. "But she was a perfect patient," recalls Dr Shyam Shrivastava, Professor and Head, Department of Radiation Oncology, seated in his cabin at the hospital.
"Doctors usually make bad patients, because they ask a million questions and don't follow their physician's advice. But not Madam. Until the end, even if she was asked to take a Crocin tablet at a particular time, she would do it unquestioningly," he adds, as Dr Rohini Kelkar, Professor and Head, Department of Microbiology, nods.
"She handled her illness bravely. In fact, she was the one who called and broke the news to me. I broke down on the phone, but Madam remained strong until the end," Kelkar recalls.
Once again, we wonder whether the claim is a fond exaggeration brought on by wistful nostalgia, but a talk with Dr Sarbani Ghosh-Laskar, Radiation Oncologist, who worked with Dinshaw for seven years until she retired in 2008, puts all doubts to rest.
"I think the hallmark of her personality was composure. She was very particular about how to behave whether it was with her students or patients, and she stayed true to that even during her illness. She kept it together, and was brave about it," she smiles, taking a few minutes off to talk to me in between the post-holiday rush of patients outside.
Calling her an "institution-builder", Dr Sarin recalls fond memories of working with Dr Dinshaw from his first day at the hospital, in 1998.
"She was a stickler for discipline, decorum and ethical conduct. Gentle and polite, always dressed in a crisp beautiful sari and her trademark large bindi, she would also be the toughest one to crack under pressure. She could annoy even close friends by putting the institution and the larger cause ahead of their wishes."
That she put the hospital above all else is clear from Dr Dinshaw's legacy. Awarded the Padma Shri in 2001, she is often credited for shaping the hospital into the premier centre that it is today.
The 60-acre Khargar campus was also fruit of her vision, for which she had to tide over administrative hurdles, Dr Shrivastava tells us.
"But Madam had one quality she knew how to get the job done. She would give it to the right person at the right time, and follow up," he smiles, remembering how she once ripped into him after he failed to complete a task due to a busy schedule even after two months. "Finally, she told me, 'Give me all the papers, I'll do it'.
I did so, apologised and was about to leave her office, when she called out to me, shoving the papers back at me, saying, 'Now take these and get it done!' That was when I realised that if she gave me a job, I had to see it through, no matter what," he laughs.
Dr Kelkar concurs, "The institution was paramount in everything she did, whether it was bringing back rare plants from her foreign visits to grow in the building plot, or asking us to take photographs of tiles that she wanted to replicate within the premises.
I don't think there's a single aspect of the hospital that she didn't touch. Why, we have gone shopping for furniture and upholstery while it was being renovated!" she laughs, gesturing to the chairs we are sitting on in Dr Shrivastava's office. "She has handpicked every tile you see around you in the hospital today."
That is something the hospital, recognised today as a top-notch cancer treatment facility, will do well to remember even as thousands of hopeful patients throng its busy hallways, as on this day, everyday.
Dr Dinshaw's achievements
Dr Rajiv Sarin (seen on the left, in picture, during a tree plantation by Dr Dinshaw, at ACTREC in 2008), says, "She pushed the long pending agenda of developing indigenous radiotherapy machines and christened it Bhabhatron, now installed in over 20 Indian organisations.
India has donated them through IAEA to a few other developing countries too. She invigorated the spirit of cancer prevention, cancer research and international collaborations with the WHO, IAEA, UICC and several other organisations.
She was instrumental in laying foundation to so many disciplines, practices and codes of conduct that we now take for granted. She was the first one to initiate multidisciplinary joint clinic and commonly agreed standardised treatment protocol for cancer management at the TMH in late 70s."