Dr Dinshaw Doongaji, the doyen of psychiatry, passed away on February 25 on his 91st birthday.
For him psychiatry was logic married to mathematics. The weekly grand round discussions with Sir was a treat for our gray cells and all four ventricles of our hearts. We never feared him, at a time when many consultants evoked awe.
Flanked by his two two peers, Dr Ashit Sheth and Dr Jayant Apte, he would inject enthusiasm and ask incisive queries. Expletives flowed occasionally if we erred but no one felt insulted or humiliated. It was pure love and compassion that he displayed to each one of us. We all felt very equal in his presence.
As student when we asked questions, Dr Doongaji would just pick up one of his own books or journals and offer us to read. This was in an era when the internet and Google were not available and students were at the mercy of the library and teachers for sourcing references. His wit was remarkable and he let it loose with a voice so soft, chuckling away with a laughter that was infectious yet sober.
Dr Doongaji allowed everyone around him to simply believe in themselves and use every cell of their being to learn not only from experiences but also beyond the ordinary. He did not give us the equations of psychiatry but taught us how to derive them ourselves. He was equal to all, including ward boys and the nurses.
Dr Doongaji taught us without actually teaching us. Sometimes he would ask Ram Singhal, a senior and experienced ward boy, for his opinion, and Singhal would occasionally be right.
With a surgical mind Dr Doongaji would dissect every fact and every observation. He was forthright and blunt. In one of our interactions he asked my senior registrar. “Will you give these medications if the patient was your relative?” But this was asked without malice.
Dr Chand Nair, one of my dear friends and a student then, says: “On completing my three years of residency, I topped my university in that batch and went to him all puffed up, seeking guidance. His advice was simple: ‘Practising medicine and especially psychiatry is not a passive spectator sport , dikhra, step into the arena like it is a gladiatorial sport and fight for your patients.’”
I spent one year at KEM hospital and that year was a period when my mind was imprinted by just two phrases: Be rationale, be human. I strive to follow that even today. With Shubha Thatte, a wonderful psychologist, and the late Mr Mistry, the EEG professional par excellence who interpreted the brain graphs probably better than anyone else, they made a great trio. I personally feel that it was one of the golden eras of psychiatry in India. The first research papers on the use of yoga in psychoneurosis came from the department pioneered by the late Dr NS Vahia, whom Dr Doongaji assisted for many years.
Dr Nair describes sir as “a wonderful, trailblazing, funny and brilliant man.” For me he was the Zen master.
(To receive our E-paper on WhatsApp daily, please click here. To receive it on Telegram, please click here. We permit sharing of the paper's PDF on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.)