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How Chuttani built a grand institution, block by block

chandigarh Updated: Feb 26, 2015 10:37 IST
Vishav Bharti

It was the early 1960s when a young Dr JS Chopra, practising neurology in a hospital in the UK, happened to meet his former teacher Dr PN Chuttani in an elevator in London. In the brief encounter, Dr Chopra expressed his desire to return to India. “Boy, go and pack your bags; I have given you the job,” Dr Chuttani said to his bright student.

That is how eminent neurologist Dr JS Chopra joined the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER). Similar is the story of almost every doctor who was brought to the newly established Chandigarh and how the institute came into existence. Dr BNS Walia, former director of the PGIMER, shares his tale too. One afternoon, he received an unexpected call from Dr Chhutanni, who was already a legend at that time. “He asked me if I could have coffee with him at India International Centre (in Delhi); there he offered me the post of associate professor in paediatrics at the new institution at Chandigarh,”he recalls.

Dr Walia was told that some of his friends had recommended his name but the job would be on ad-hoc basis for six months, during which his performance would be observed.

“I agreed to the terms, and was willing to take the risk. I sent in my application to the institute and received appointment orders in December 1965,”he adds.

Neurosurgeon Dr VK Kak was brought to the institute from the UK too. Dr Chopra had been assigned to get a good neurosurgeon. And he immediately gave reference of his friend, Dr Kak.

Meritorious mix

“A mixture of faculty drawn from the state, national and international sources created a healthy atmosphere of enthusiasm and creativity,” says Dr BK Sharma, former director.

Dr Chuttani was the first man to not pay heed to regional, religious or caste factors while hiring doctors, he says.

“And there was not even a single recruitment by him that was challenged in any court,”claims Dr Walia. And the decisions, Dr Walia says, proved excellent. During the PGIMER’s golden jubilee celebrations recently, former director KK Talwar shared another such tale.

On December 31, 1976, which was his last day as a senior resident in cardiology at the PGIMER, he went to meet the then director Dr Chuttani. “In the course of our discussion, I shared my apprehensions about my future. He immediately directed issuance of an appointment letter to me as an ad-hoc lecturer in medicine, as there was no vacancy in cardiology,” recalls Dr KK Talwar. “Such was his concern for students.”

Blank cheque, free hand

There is another popular tale at the PGIMER about the hiring of pathologist Dr BN Aikat. Already a legend, he was based in Kolkata. “He first refused the offer, but on the request of Dr Chuttani and Dr Anand, chief minister Partap Singh Kairon called Dr Aikat and placed a blank cheque in front of him. He told him that the next call will be from Pandit Nehru (the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru),”a former head of the department shares the story.

Dr Aikat was brought to PGIMER with the dream that one day a Nobel Prize will come out of the research departments.

Though the dream is yet to be realised, in pathology the PGIMER remains unmatched.

Washington-based cardiologist Dr Inder Singh Anand, son of former PGIMER director Dr SS Anand, says Kairon had given them complete freedom to hire anybody without paying much heed to the bureaucratic hurdles. “Kairon signed a bunch of his blank letterheads and gave them to my father. It was faith and honesty. That is how great institutes come up,”he says.