My medical experience, extends to some five decades, dating back from pre-independence times. The years 1940 to 1947 were exciting and crucial from a political point of view. World War II was on and the fall of the British Empire was imminent. India was awaiting the dawn of independence. The whole political atmosphere was charged with a feeling of anticipation. The patriotic fever coursing through all sections of the people  including of course, the students of my college.

When I joined the G.S. Medical College, Dr Jivraj Mehta was then the Dean. He can truly be called the father of those twin institutions the K.E.M. Hospital and the G.S. Medical College. He was an eminent physician. After his return from England, he had thrown himself into the freedom struggle at great personal sacrifice. He was later to rise to a position of high eminence within the Indian National Congress and become Mahatma Gandhi's personal physician.

As a medical man, he was soon to realise the discrimination practised in the only government medical college and hospital then in existence where no opportunities were given to highly qualified Indian doctors. Many brilliant Indian surgeons and physicians had to work as subordinates to British chiefs. Most of these British chiefs were no match to Indian specialists and quite often the treatment meted out to the latter was humiliating. They were not given independent charge of surgical or medical patients.

On his appointment as Dean of the Seth G.S. Medical College and the K.E.M. Hospital, Dr Mehta had one single objective before him. He wanted to establish a medical college and a hospital entirely staffed by eminent Indian doctors and prove that we Indians can not only establish such institutions, but run them more efficiently than the British. Towards this objective, Dr Mehta introduced the 'Honorary System in K.E.M. Hospital. Many eminent specialists were invited to take charge of various specialised departments. They were put in charge of not only medical relief, but also medical education and research. They were paid a small honorarium of Rs 100 p.m. for their services and I remember that most of them spent not less than six to eight hours a day in these institutions, attending on elective and emergency cases, teaching students and carrying on cliniresearch. Those indeed were the glorious years of the Honorary system in the K.E.M. Hospital and it was during this period that I was lucky to join the G.S. Medical College. Here I saw many giants of the medical profession in action. Dr Mehta, of course, retired from the K.E.M. after his last political imprisonment in 1942 to join active politics and become, in due course, Chief Minister of Gujarat. But even after he retired Dr Mehta continued to maintain his interest in the two institutions that were his creation. He was proud of them.

Let me recount some episodes of those times.

Those were pre-independence days. The Second World War was on. In Bombay, there were frequent anti-British demonstrations. Once, a mob burnt a police car in front of the G.S. Medical College and there was stone-throwing as well. A military vehicle arrived and about a dozen British soldiers entered the College compound. As soon as Dr Mehta came to know about this, he rushed from his office to the lawn where the soldiers had set up barricades. He demanded to know who their leader was and on being informed, peremptorily asked him to leave along with his men. He told them that he was the Dean of the college without whose permission they should not have entered its premises in the first place. The authoritative and firm tone of the Dean had its effect. Picking up their weapons, the soldiers left meekly. How proud I felt of our Dean that day!

A few days later, in a firing resorted to by British soldiers, a young boy lay bleeding with a bullet wound in his thigh right in front of the casualty gate of the K.E.M. Hospital. Firing was going on just a few meters away at Kamgar Maidan. One of our students rushed out and picked up the wounded boy who was bleeding profusely and brought him to the casualty department. Dr Mehta was then in his office. He came out and asked the soldiers to stop firing and walked down to Kamgar Maidan where there were more soldiers. He invited their leader to the Casualty Department and pointing to the wounded boy asked him: "Who is supposed to look after the casualties of your indiscriminate firing? Are you not supposed to render them medical help or at the very least have them brought to the hospital?” The leader sheepishly agreed. Dr Mehta told him that one of his students had to risk his life to get the wounded boy in, even as firing was going on. In the evening, Dr Mehta rang up the concerned authorities and offered them an ambulance from K.E.M accompanied by a qualified doctor and a few students as voluntary stretcher bearers. I was one of them and we were instrumental in saving many lives.

Compilation of professional reminiscences of specialists - edited by M.V.Kamath and Dr.Rekha Karmarkar