Dr. P. K. R. - The Legend from a Bygone Era

On the afternoon of 26th March 2011 at his son-in-law, Shaji N. Karun’s placid elegant home ‘Piravi’ in Vellayambalam, Trivandrum, Dr. P.K.R. Warrier was lying still with serenity written large all over his face. The renowned cardio-thoracic surgeon, social activist and author was nothing less than a legend, a firebrand with strong political convictions, an epitome of selfless service and a role model for socially committed medical practitioners. While bowing at his feet, memories took me to the morning five years back where in the same room, I sat spellbound at the eloquence of this veteran opening his mind about his life, his convictions, – and himself. Among the small crowd of family members of Dr. Warrier and mine, I was taken away with awe and affection to this stalwart of yesteryears. While parting, he gave us a copy of his autobiography ‘Experiences and perceptions’ writing on its first page: ‘with best compliments and revolutionary greetings to Beena and Kochunarayanan’, which I still keep as a treasure.

A life sketch as given by Dr. Warrier in his book.

Born in 13th August 1921. Undergraduate education in Madras Medical College. Failed in Medicine – December 1945; passed MBBS – June 1946, Demonstrator in Anatomy from July 1947 to December 1948. Worked as unofficial house surgeon and senior house surgeon under Dr. Mohan Rao and Dr. CPV Menon between January 1949 and June 1950, in the General Hospital, Madras. Civil Assistant Surgeon in Coimbatore, Cochin, Minicoy and Trivandrum, between June 1950 and August ’59. FRCS in January 1960. Training in Cardio-thoracic Surgery in Stoke on Trent and QE Birmingham until 1962. On returning to India, worked as Assistant to Professor Raghavachari in the department of surgery in the Trivandrum Medical College in 1964, Retired as professor of Cardio-thoracic Surgery in 1977. Post retirement, worked as Professor of Surgery in Kasturba Medical College, Manipal until 1983. Chief of Surgery, AKG Memorial Hospital, Cannanore until 1986. Surgical Consultant, Aswini Hospital, Trichur and Samalk Hospital, Ottapalam, until 1990. Retired from all professional work in 1990.

Born in the year 1921 as last of the eight children of Dr. P.K. Warrier, Dr. P.K.R spent a splendid childhood as son of the P.A. to Surgeon General, the highest post in the medical field to which a native can aspire during the British Raj. Dr. P.K.R. Warrier was a man of high principles. It was curious for me to learn that the son of Dr. P.K. Warrier who bought Chevrolet Tourer from General Motors for Rs.1200/- in the 1930’s was the veteran cardio thoracic surgeon who used to go to Trivandrum medical College on a cycle. He never owned a car of his own. As a child he was used to the medical career (he reminisces he liked the aroma of Ether and Lysol).

Back in Kerala after his father’s retirement, Dr. PKR Warrier, still in his teens, was attracted to the freedom movement. His mother and sisters had chosen to wear only Khadi clothes. He witnessed the simple marriage of his elder sister to Devi Prasad Gupta a native of Dehradun, both sevagram workers. His brother married a Christian girl and all had their blessings from the liberal parents. He recalls with pride how a Khadi clad medical student was jeered by others. Dr. Warrier’s initiation to Indian National Congress and later to left politics and Marxism is also closely associated with his association with Devaki Pallom, whom he proudly acclaim “Devaki was my comrade, political guru, helper in academics and now to be my life partner”. On his passing MBBS his mother wrote, “Remember your father has had over thirty years of hard labour behind him and established a reputation of uncommon skill in patient care. More than that he has a reputation for unassailable honesty and incorruptibility. Keep his name unblemished.” He reminisces that his father wrote, “Appu you have entered the great hall of healers. Do not ever look to make money from pain and suffering. Do not make your profession a marketable commodity, however great the temptation.”

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Dr. Warrier at the campaign for the release of noted activist Dr. Binayak Sen jailed on charges of sedition

Dr. Warrier and Devaki Pallom started their life together. He was not given admission for MS in General Surgery in University of Madras on the ground that he was a communist. Later when the first Communist Ministry was formed in Kerala he was offered deputation abroad for post graduation in surgery and specialization in Cardio Thoracic surgery to start that speciality in the Trivandrum Medical College. During his days in Minicoy earlier he had to brave situations where with his strong social convictions he could circumvent lack of amenities. In the island, hospital facilities were rudimentary, two observation beds, two drip-sets to be assembled, boiled and reused, two scalpels with fixed blades, half a dozen assorted needles, curved and straight, half a dozen tubes of catguts.

Dr. Warrier was a staunch believer that medical profession is not a commodity for sale. Patients and their relatives were not allowed to see him at home – even his own sister had to come to the hospital to seek Dr. PKR's advice. Dr. PKR was a man with an eventful life as a freedom fighter, wielder of the healing knife, lover, revolutionary and with a life long crusade against corruption and greed. His life was complete with his loving wife and doting children and grand children. In his last days he was rejoiced to see many of his life-long dreams turn into reality – stopping of private practice of doctors, formation of a medical university, and turning Medical College a referral hospital. In death also he insisted on simplicity. His coffin lay without wreaths or flowers strewn all around. No religious rites - not even the ceremonious state farewell that has become the norm these days. His eyes were donated per his wishes. Let us all hope that he'll see through those very eyes, a changed world when his idealistic dreams come true.