Gandhians recall Bapu's visit to PMCH in 1947, appeal to not demolish heritage buildings

PATNA: Three months before India’s independence, Mahatma Gandhi had visited the Patna Medical College and Hospital for an appendicitis surgery of his grand-niece Manu, and so worried Bapu was that he sat next to her, wearing a surgical mask and watched the entire procedure in the operation theatre.

Seventy-five years later, Gandhian scholars and his admirers are now concerned over the fate of the over 100-year-old Bankipore General Hospital building in which the operation took place on May 15, 1947, and other heritage structures of the PMCH — Bihar and Odisha’s first medical college — which are set to be demolished as part of a mega redevelopment project.

The state government’s move has upset a large number of alumni members, heritage lovers and scholars, who have already appealed to not dismantle these iconic structures and “restore and preserve some of the key landmark buildings for the posterity”.

Manu Gandhi, in whose arms Mahatma Gandhi had collapsed after falling to bullets of an assassin on January 30, 1948, in Delhi’s Birla House, was his dutiful companion in the crusade for Independence and a chronicler of his life.

“Seen, always by Bapu’s side, whom she considered as her ‘mother’, Manu had come along with Gandhi to Bihar several times. Together they had come to Patna again after visiting parts of Bengal post the communal riots. Manu had a tremendous pain in her stomach and she was taken to the PMCH for appendicitis operation,” said octogenarian Razi Ahmad, director of the Gandhi Sanghralaya in Patna.

References to this medical operation, are there in Mahatma Gandhi’s own chronicles and diaries of Manu Gandhi, translated from Gujarati a few years ago, who was a very young freedom fighter herself, standing literally by her grandfather and even went to jail with him, he said.

Ahmad, 82, an avowed Gandhian, said, he was “shocked” that instead of preserving the old buildings, that too when Gandhi’s legacy is attached to it, the government has planned to raze the heritage structures which were built as part of the evolution of this famed medical institution, and asked “if there could be a smart city without Gandhi’s legacy at its core”.

“The old Bankipore station in Patna where Gandhi had arrived via a train on the way to Champaran in 1917, is gone. Sikander Manzil, where he had stayed during his first visit to Patna that year, is practically demolished. Now the PMCH building. What do centenary and anniversary celebrations mean, if we cannot preserve the actual, tangible legacy of Gandhi,” he rued.

A Annamalai, director of Delhi-based National Gandhi Museum, said in his diary that on May 15, 1947, Gandhi who was in Patna then, noted: “Manu has a severe stomach-ache, she also had vomiting and is running temperature. I therefore called in the doctors who examined her. Manu’s complaint was diagnosed as appendicitis. I had her removed to the hospital immediately. She will be operated upon at night”.

The Mahatma, who had already lost his wife Kasturba in Pune, a few years ago, goes on to describe in his diary. “I had put on a surgical mask and watched the whole operation”.

“Gandhiji insisted to be present in the OT and doctors eventually obliged him. He sat next to the operation table, in his trademark ‘dhoti’ and a mask on his face. Unfortunately, not many people know about this episode. The Bihar government should preserve this legacy of Gandhi by preserving the PMCH’s old hospital building. Demolishing it would be loss of an institutional heritage and Bapu’s legacy,” Annamalai said.

Annamalai, who authored, ‘Gandhi’s Experiment with Health’ for Indian Journal of Medical Research in 2019 to mark his 150th anniversary, said Mahatma Gandhi himself was operated for appendicitis in January 1924 at Sassoon Hospital in Pune, under a hurricane lamp, as there was a power outage.

That old OT is now a memorial, and Patna should also save this historic building, he said.

“He was a part of the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps in South Africa during the Second Boer War and so, he had a fair understanding of medical care. At PMCH, during Manu’s surgery, he wanted to actually see the operation. Isn’t it a fascinating story of Gandhi as a man of science,” Annamalai said.

According to his diary entry, part of the Collected Works of Gandhi, on May 16, 1947, he wrote to Jaisukhlal Gandhi: “My pride has been humbled,” said a senior official of the Gandhi Smriti, situated in Birla House, where he spent the last 144 days of his life.

He also appealed to the Bihar government to preserve and celebrate this architectural and cultural legacy, and not raze the hospital building and other heritage structures of the PMCH.

The institution, originally christened as the Prince of Wales Medical College, was established in 1925.

It was renamed to PMCH, a few years after Independence.

The college had evolved out of the Temple Medical School, set up in 1874 in Patna.

The double-storied old Bankipore General Hospital, more than a century-old, is endowed with a huge staircase and a Brirtish-era lift, and houses the old Hathwa Ward and Guzri Ward.

It is fronted with a handsome structure with tall, magnificent Doric pillars on two sides.

The old operation theatre where Manu Gandhi was operated is located on the first floor.

Rare, old black and white photos of the May 15, 1947 surgery, showing Gandhi sitting on a chair inside the OT, are preserved in old photo libraries.

The PMCH website also mentions about Manu Gandhi’s surgery.

The PMCH Alumni Association had recently appealed to preserve and restore at least the administrative building which houses the Principal’s Office; and the iconic old Bankipore General Hospital Building, whose image had also adorned the postal stamp released on its platinum jubilee in 2000.