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Lying in at no-worries hospital

Updated on: 13 March,2011 09:54 AM IST  | 
Fiona Fernandez | fiona.fernandez@mid-day.com

Patients at Byculla's Masina Hospital may not know that the lawns they take their evening stroll in was a private garden fringing the mansion of 19th century Jewish trader and philanthropist David Sassoon. Named Sans Souci (No Worries, in French), the mansion was once a venue for glamorous dos. Its current pride is the just-renovated OPD wing that stands in the stately heritage section

Lying in at no-worries hospital

Patients at Byculla's Masina Hospital may not know that the lawns they take their evening stroll in was a private garden fringing the mansion of 19th century Jewish trader and philanthropist David Sassoon. Named Sans Souci (No Worries, in French), the mansion was once a venue for glamorous dos. Its current pride is the just-renovated OPD wing that stands in the stately heritage section

It's February 28, 1879. Trader and leader of the Baghdadi Jews in Bombay, David Sassoon's Sans Souci mansion in Byculla (the name means 'no worries' in French), is the venue of a glitzy social gathering.

The decorated archway, 19th century home and sprawling lawns stand ambient as the British flag flutters in the night sky. The reason for celebration is the announcement of the transfer of the governance of India to the British Crown. Bombay's elite are in attendance, including then Governor, Lord Elphinstone.

The Out Patient Services Department at Masina Hospital provided
medical care to 12,883 patients between 2009 and '10. This
revamped wing was inaugurated last Sunday. Pics/Bipin Kokate

The incessant ring from Dr Jehanbux A Chichgar's (MD) pocket springs us back to a clear February morning in 2011.

"It's a busy day," he apologises. "When David Sassoon was suffering from a case of bad hernia, Dr Hormasji Manekji Masina cured him. In a goodwill gesture, Sassoon gifted him his splendid mansion. If only today's patients were that kind...!" he chuckles, leading us through the freshly-painted low archway into Masina Hospital's OPD section.

The entrance leading to the OPD is characterised by a gradual
slope. It originally housed the stables in David Sassoon's palatial

The consulting physician and cardiologist is the brain behind Mumbai's first private hospital's spanking new Out Patient Services Department spanning 6,000 sq ft housed within the 109 year-old Heritage Wing of the premise.
As we enter, we realise the ground lends itself to a natural slope. "We are standing on land that once housed Sassoon's stables. It's a gradual 18-metre drop. The hospital used to be flooded in the monsoons.

The swank OPD wing now provides more privacy between patient
and doctor. The original structure and large windows have
been retained

Thankfully, we've sorted the problem," he says, throwing a glance at a group of alabaster marble busts that dot the area. Masina houses the largest concentration of busts of Parsi benefactors that can be found anywhere in the city, is Dr Chichgar's claim.

Completed in six months at a cost of Rs 37 lakh, the OPD wing that was inaugurated last Sunday was restored by architect Feroza Netarwala, free of cost.

The original structure, including three-feet thick walls, Burma teak furniture and arched windows have been retained. "We didn't want to disturb the original structure; care was taken to ensure that our patients weren't inconvenienced either."

This ornate oak wood staircase was shipped from England to
grace Sassoon's Sans Souci mansion. On the wall hangs a
portrait of Dr Masina's wife Jerbai

The OPD revamp is the first in a comprehensive makeover planned for the remaining three buildings that stand inside the eight-acre complex. The Paediatrics wing sports a brighter shade, with a few toys and playhouse goodies to entertain waiting, weepy kids. On the upper level, there's a buzz in the air and yet the spacious interiors, high walls, wood-framed portraits, and Minton tiles exude a soothing old-world charm.

For Karuna Attili, in-charge, Hospital Administration, the revamp was necessary since for a patient, the OPD is the first point of contact with the hospital. "All 63 beds in the general category are occupied, and with the new OPD, the numbers are bound to grow," she says with a satisfied smile. The earlier set-up didn't allow for much privacy between doctor and patient. Currently, the hospital houses a total of 300 beds, and is looked after by a staff of 200, and 110 nurses who serve 142 patients.

Now run by the Masina Hospital Trust, the mansion was converted to a hospital in 1907 in the memory of Dr Masina's wife, Jerbai. If you miss the white bust that stands prominently in the verdant lawns, she greets you again from a gold gilded handpainted portrait along the Heritage Wing stairway.u00a0

Masina, over the years
Jerbai was responsible for engineering a Post-Graduate Medical College and the Lady Broacha College of Nursing in 1923. By 1924, Masina became India's first hospital to house an X-Ray plant. In fact, with 150 beds in its first 25 years, Dr Masina performed over 11,000 surgeries.

After his death, his son Ardeshir carried on the family legacy until his untimely death in 1947. His daughter Mehroo was closely involved with the hospital till 1966 before she migrated to England.

"Over the years, Masina has prided itself for housing the city's only Tertiary Care Centre for Burns. Its Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit is well equipped, and sought after," says Attili. And the Psychiatry Department (rehabilitation centre for drug addicts, alcoholics, poly-substance abusers and dually diagnosed patients) is the best private drug rehab centre in the city. "Some of the rich and famous have been here; they behave just like the rest," says Dr Chichgar, reminding us of the US based Indian hotelier-billionaire's stint at the centre in December 2009.

Besides, the Department of Medicine, Surgery, Orthopaedics, Gynaecology and Paediatrics are quite popular for affordable health care. "While it's free for Parsi patients, the rest are charged Rs 650 a day including three meals." Funding, Dr Chichgar believes, is the biggest stumbling block in improving facilities.

"We want to modernise in a big way, install air conditioners in every room, introduce MRI scan facilities... it's a slow climb." We've now reached the first floor via a creaky elevator that reminds you of life in slo-mo. The first and second floors that housed the Parsi ward ceased operations 15 years ago.

A Convention Hall occupies some part of it, offering space for seminars and conferences. And this is where we come face-to-face with the grand oak wood staircaseu00a0-- the crowning glory of the Heritage Wing. Imported from England, it bears the coat of arms of the Sassoon family.

The engraving reads: Candide et Constant ER. Sasoon's rise to become one of Bombay's wealthiest citizens is the stuff urban legends are made of. In her book City of Gold: Biography of Bombay, British writer Gillian Tindall writes about a fortune-teller who had predicted immense riches awaiting Sassoon in Bombay.

Starting off with a modest counting house and carpet godown, he went on to become an astute empire-builder. He financed other merchants with loans in return for their goods at preferential prices and bought ailing businesses to revitalise them.

Throughout the 1870s and 1880s, the Sans Souci mansion built in Renaissance style, was the hub of the city's social activity and meetings, recalls city historian and author Deepak Rao. It was so popular that the London Illustrated reportedu00a0 about one of these gatherings. "The elite of Bombay were treated by well-known, wealthy Jewish merchants of India and China," it said.

In November 1872, one of the most glamorous events the city witnessed was held in honour of the Indian Viceroy and 1,400 guests. "The estate building and water fountains were all decorated. It rivalled the grandeur of palaces in Italian towns," Rao quotes from published excerpts that date back to the period.

Interestingly, the mansion also hosted 6,000 delegates of the Indian National Congress in December 1889.
The Sassoon family gave back to the city in numerous waysu00a0-- two synagogues, schools, a wet dock, boy's reformatory and a mechanical institute (now the David Sassoon Library and Reading Room at Kala Ghoda). Poetic justice then that the residence turned into a seat for nursing.

On our way out, walking past strolling patients, most of them unaware of the history they are brushing past, we manage a second glance at Lady Jerbai Masina's statue. The engraved quote ends our visit on a philosophical note: There seems no death, what seems so is transition, from mortal breath to Life Elysian.

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