Dr Baliga had a very humble beginning. He had to struggle all along in his medical career and it was the patronage and timely help given him by the legendary Dr G.V. Deshmukh that made it possible for him to go to United Kingdom, get his F.R.C.S. and an appointment as Honorary Consultant at the K.E.M. on his return. Perhaps he was repaying that debt in his own way and I was the medium.

Dr Baliga had to put up with real hardships in the beginning and it was by sheer hard work and perseverance that he climbed the ladder of professional competence and success. I have watched him during this phase of his life and I have watched him, too, as he put long hours of work at the K.E.M., seeing patients, operating and looking after them postoperatively. He would often be at K.E.M. teaching students, doing both emergency and elective operations sometimes well into the early hours of the morning. Operating for four, five, six or eight hours on a patient soon became routine for him. All the challenging and complicated cases came to him and his reputation as a surgeon soared and he came to be in the topmost bracket of surgeons. His fame spread far and wide very soon. As I became his anaesthetist, I realised that not only were the topmost families in Bombay his patients but that people came to him for surgery from the remotest corners of the country and even from abroad. Governors, Chief Ministers, Ambassadors from different countries and even princely rulers were his patients. He would be operating at times for 14 to 16 hours a day, every day of the week. He seldom looked tired. Surgery was his first love. Even after 7 to 8 hours of a complicated marathon surgery he was ready to start on the next case with a smile. His practice was legendary and he charged his rich patients well and they paid willingly. None dared discuss fees with him. They thought he was too big a person to discuss such matters.

Once I was taking a cup of tea with him in his Consulting Room in between two operations. His consulting room was next to the operation.. An elderly Muslim gentleman, looking very affluent and respectful his white flowing beard and a woollen sherwani and a fur cap, entered consulting room. He had a silver plate in his hand which was covered white silk cloth. Dr Baliga had operated on his wife's gall bladder earlier. He said: "Doctor saheb, my wife is very well and we are going home todayā€¯. Then he removed the silk covering cloth. I saw wads of hundred rupee notes on the plate. I was amazed. I had thought that he was offering Dr Baliga some sweets. Then the gentleman said: "Doctor saheb, I do not know what I owe to you as fees for my wife's operation. I did not dare ask you and you never mentioned it either. I am therefore offering this to you, which I hope you will kindly accept!"

In all my practice I had never witnessed such a scene. I do not think I will ever witness one such either. But what followed was even more significant. Dr Baliga told the astounded man that that was not how payment was made. He rang his secretary and told him to send a proper bill to the patient and collect the exact amount and nothing more.

Dr Baliga had his private nursing home near Opera House, in Bombay. It was a small place. It had no more than a dozen or so beds. The nursing home, however, was very neat and clean and had all the modern amenities like air-conditioning. The nursing services were excellent. In other words, it was a posh place and vied with the best of the lot. I was amazed to learn that of the dozen beds at least two or three were reserved for poor patients who were treated free. They were not charged for anything, whether for anaesthesia, operation or nursing, or for their stay. Beneficiaries of this largesse were poor people, former freedom fighters or current social workers. The nursing home frequently ran at a loss but Dr Baliga considered it important to run it to give of his very best to his patients without being under anybody's obligations.

One morning when I went to the nursing home, I heard Dr Baliga's Secretary telling him that the telephone bill for the month had gone beyond Rs. 3,000. The secretary felt that it would be advisable to place some restrictions on phone calls, especially long-distance trunk calls. Dr Baliga said:

"Look, every hospital, every nursing home, must provide all essential facilities to their patients. Telephone facility is an essential part of service which I can't deny to a patient and I won't charge my patients for it. If they misuse them, it is their concern, not mine!"

 Read more stories about Dr.A.V.Baliga:

The Guru Tradition - 4

The Guru Tradition - 6

The Guru Tradition - 7

The Guru Tradition - 8

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