Renowned as a doctor, a compassionate man, and an extremely capable surgeon in the old Mysore area, Rao Bahadur Dr. T V Arumugam Mudaliar was a contemporary of Sir. M Visvesvaraya. When he was the Chief Superintendent of Bangalore’s Victoria Hospital, its fame spread far and wide. The primary reason for this was his medical skill combined with his compassion for people. His sympathy was like medicine. The two together made him valuable to society.
Arumugam Mudaliar came from one of the reputed families of Bangalore. His parents were well-to-do.
Arumugam loved humour. He was a deeply religious man too but he never displayed it in public.
Service to the Supreme
He lived in Kalasipalyam during his early childhood. He was devoted to a maṭha in the area that belonged to Sahajananda Swami. Arumugam Mudaliar donated generously for publishing ‘Vedānta Pañcadaśī,’ a Kannada treatise written by Sahajananda Swami. The book was printed at Mysore’s Wesley Press on high quality paper and was bound exquisitely. The Swami also translated a Mīmāṃsā work titled ‘Vṛtti Prābhākara’ into Kannada. The Swami was a not a brāhmaṇa by birth. His story would need to be narrated separately.
Arumugam Mudaliar supported this type of service to the Supreme [The original has ‘ಭಗವತ್ಕೈಂಕರ್ಯ’ which is nearly impossible to translate exactly; it loosely translates into ‘selfless service (ಕೈಂಕರ್ಯ) to the Supreme (ಭಗವತ್)’].
On Mysore Road, close to the Bangalore Press, there is a small Śiva temple. Arumugam Mudaliar used to provide generously to meet the expenses of this temple.
All such donations he made were anonymous. He did not want anyone to know about it. By some means I had found out.
It was sometime during 1938–39. Some fourteen or fifteen miles east of Bangalore, there is a village called Kittaganahalli. It comes under the purview of the Śivagaṅgā Maṭha. A large aśvattha-kaṭṭe and a nāgara-kṣetra are found attached [to the Maṭha]. This is a pilgrimage centre for the Bṛhaccharaṇas, a Dravidian brāhmaṇa community. Since the nāgara-kaṭṭe and other structures had become dilapidated over a period of time, thus making it difficult to conduct pūjā, retired sub-judge Kacharakanahalli Lakshminaranappa had resolved to repair the place and build a temple for Lord Śrīnivāsa, a marriage hall, and other facilities. But he died soon after and subsequently his son Padmanabhayya decided to fulfil the noble deed. I too was one among the friends he chose for assistance. Due to this, I had to visit Padmanabhayya’s house frequently. During one such visit, Dr. Arumugam Mudaliar happened to be there. He and Lakshminaranappa were close friends. Turning toward me, Arumugam Mudaliar asked me (in Tamil), “Are you ready with the passport?”
“To where?” I asked.
“Arrangements that you were making, to send Kittaganahalli Lakshminaranappa to heaven!”
I asked back, “How long have you progressed?”
“What!? What about me?”
“That Śiva temple on Mysore Road and then the Oṃkāreśvara temple at Kalasipalyam. And all the money you spent on these…?”
Mudaliar asked, “Bloody thief! Who told you about all this?”
I said, “Can truth be hidden? It will come into the open on its own. Now, have you told me about the sacred beads you are counting, as we speak? If you permit me, I will pull out the string of beads from your pocket and show it.”
With a smile Mudaliar said, “You’re a bad guy. Enough with you!”
And he went away.
One day, a poor man landed up at his door at around 7 or 7.30 in the morning and sought his attention for his child who was extremely unwell. The doctor enquired, “Where is your house?” and then said, “By the time you get back, I will have reached there.” That poor man went home to Shankarapuram on his bicycle. By that time, the doctor had already reached there by car. It was around 8.30 then. He sat beside the sick child till 11. He said, “Get hot water,” “Get milk,” etc., and fetched all necessities, giving treatment to the child in many ways. But there was no sign of improvement. He got up around eleven and said, “There is nothing more I can do, be brave!” and left.
That was pro-bono work. It was generally like this everywhere. Apart from the purse that the king gave him, he did not desire anything anywhere. He never touched a penny. In fact, if he learnt that the patient was poor, he would himself offer help.
Once when he was in Shimoga, a Muslim man stood outside his door and began groaning loudly. The doctor’s servants were trying to drive him away. The doctor woke up because of the sound; wrapping a shawl around him, he climbed down the stairs and himself enquired with the poor Muslim. Someone at his home was ill. The doctor followed him with a lantern in one hand and his medicine bag in the other. Not only did he give treatment but also gave him ten rupees for care before he returned. There are several such instances.
I was going for a walking one morning when I saw Arumugam Mudaliar coming from the other direction. He looked at me and said, “At least you tell him to wipe his nose. Please!”
“What are you talking about?”
“You know that Rama Rao – he is of my age. I just met him. I told him, ‘What is this, you have nasal discharge below your nose, like a small child!’ He said, ‘Where is it?’ and wiped his upper lip with a handkerchief. I said, ‘Nope, it’s still there!’ He wiped again, placed his finger, and checked again. I said, ‘It’s right there – the white thing.’ He said, ‘Doctor, it is not mucus, it is my moustache. It has turned grey!’ I said, ‘What! Not a single dark hair?’ He said, ‘I’ve shaved both sides of the moustache. This is Hitler fashion.’ I said, ‘What’s come over you? Hitler fashion at this age!’ If there is a lump of white matter under the nose, what should one call it?”
Penchant for Sports
After Arumugam Mudaliar took up a job in the Department of Medicine, the evening he received his salary, he came home with a cartload of cricket gear – bats, balls, wickets, leggings (knee-guards, pads), and so forth. His father asked, “What’s all this mess?”
He said it was playing gear for himself, his brothers, and his nephews. This penchant for cricket and other sports ran in the family.
I have absolutely no authority to comment upon the medical skills of Dr. Arumugam Mudaliar. But I can relate an incident I have heard. The Maharaja was suffering from stomach illness once. Dr. Robinson was a famous doctor at that time. He was the Chief Superintendant of Krishnarajendra Hospital, Mysore and also the Principal of the Medical College. He was probably from the United States. He examined the king and recommended an immediate emergency surgery. This suggestion was a bit harsh. It might have dangerous consequences. Some people at the palace felt that alternative avenues must be explored before proceeding with the recommendation. Accordingly, a call went to the old Dr. Arumugam Mudaliar.
Dr. Mudaliar reached the palace. Massaging the Maharaja’s tummy with his hands, he ordered for some castor oil. He made the lordship gulp down the oil. Then he said, “I will wait in the adjoining room, let’s watch for some time.” With a smile on his face, he went to the other room and spent about half hour to forty-five minutes engaging in light-hearted banter with the palace officials. During this time, the lordship had visited the toilet a couple of times. The stomach ache had gone down. Mudaliar said, “Will anyone use a scalpel for such things? What do our stomachs contain after all? A pig? A bison? No. Let the Americans do whatever they deem right!”
Food as ‘Medicine’
Once, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar was not keeping well. He had become extremely weak. His father-in-law, A Krishnaswamy Iyengar was a friend of sub-judge Lakshminarayanayya. Explaining the situation to Lakshminarayanayya, he requested Arumugam Mudaliar be taken to Masti Venkatesha Iyengar’s house. That evening, when Mudaliar arrived as usual at Lakshminarayanayya’s house, they both proceeded to Venkatesha Iyengar’s house. He was lying on the bed. He looked quite tired. As soon as he stepped into the room, Arumugam Mudaliar smiled at the patient.
He asked, “What happened to you?” Then turned towards the people gathered there and said, “Is there some cooked rice available?”
Venkatesha Iyengar’s mother Tirumalamma said, “Leftover rice from the morning is available. It might be a bit dry.”
Mudaliar said, “That’s what is needed. Please get some buttermilk too.”
Mother fetched a bowl of rice mixed thoroughly with buttermilk. Doctor said, “Please place a small morsel in his mouth.”
She hesitated, saying, “Just yesterday he had fever…”
The doctor said, “Am I not here to handle the fever? First, let some food get into his stomach. Will you feed or shall I? I’m a Mudaliar, but you are brāhmaṇas!”
She fed him two small morsels. “Give him some water,” said the doctor. “This is now the treatment. At eight in the evening, give him a few more morsels.”
The next day too, it was the same ‘treatment.’ Venkatesha Iyengar recovered like a wrestler. Arumugam Mudaliar’s advice was: “Eat well, man!”
Arumugam Mudaliar’s friendship was the very definition of friendship. As long as he was alive, at least one visit every day to H V Nanjundaiah’s house was mandatory. A visit every day also to his brother Krishnayya’s house. So also to Lakshminarayanayya’s house and C B Seshagiri Rao’s house. These were checklist items in his daily routine. Even after H V Nanjundaiah’s passing away, I have seen him go to his house. If the head of the house was present, he would talk to him for a moment; if he was not around, the doctor would enquire after their well-being by checking with the lady of the house or one of the children.
A Plan for Digestion
I’ve heard another incident. When Arumugam Mudaliar was in Mysore, there would be a friends’ gathering every Sunday. Around eight in the morning, there would be sumptuous food consisting of dosa, coffee, and other snacks. He would force them to eat to the brim. And then they would all get into two Victoria carts (horse-drawn carriages) and move towards Chamundi Hills. Once everyone had alighted and started meandering about, Arumugam Mudaliar would whisper to the coachmen to move the carriages away, then join his friends, and spend some time talking. When it was time to leave, there would be no carriages! Everyone would whine. Mudaliar would say, “What’s this, fellows! You’ve eaten so much. Why do you complain to walk a short distance? I’ve instructed the carriages to be available nearby.”
And by the time they reached that point, the carriages would have moved further away.
He would thus make them walk and digest the food. That was his plan.
Arumugam Mudaliar’s was a large family. His house was filled with brothers, children, nephews, and other relatives. He took care of the education of the youngsters. One of them was the high court judge and University of Mysore Vice-Chancellor, T Singaravelu Mudaliar.
On the day Arumugam Mudaliar died, the Legislative Assembly was in session in Bangalore. On receiving the news, Mirza Ismail suspended the Assembly. Many people from the Assembly came to pay their respects to the departed soul. Mirza Ismail was among the first. A large retinue of people joined the cortege from Arumugam Mudaliar’s home to the cemetary to pay their last respects.
Arumugam Mudaliar was a fortunate man. He was gratified by realizing Śiva within and public adulation without.
This is the sixth essay in D V Gundappa’s magnum-opus Jnapakachitrashaale (Volume 7) – Hrdaya Sampannaru. Edited by Hari Ravikumar.