A proud Mysurean, who regularly reads Star of Mysore from the United States, was impressed with another Mysurean Dr. Manik Bengeri’s Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav series on veterans from defence forces settled in Mysuru. “The feature on late Brig. Dr. M.A. Gokhale in SOM dated Aug. 17, 2022, brought back great memories. In fact, we were good friends of Brig. Gokhale. We were introduced to the Brigadier by my maternal uncle, Surgeon Commodore Dr. C. Vasant Rao, AVSM, who were close friends in Mumbai,” says Prof. Dr. K. Sandeep Prabhu, who has sent this article from the US.
“Surgeon Commodore Dr. Rao was one such individual who served in the Army and then Navy. He was always fond of his days in Mysuru and visited Mysuru whenever he had a chance to meet his parents, siblings, relatives and friends. He was notorious for his ability to gather everyone around the dining table with his stories from his days in the defence service. In fact, while at the Command Hospital in Pune, he once operated on Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa and that story captured the Field Marshal’s reputation for keeping the time. I thought of contributing this piece about Dr. Rao to be part of the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav series,” says Dr. Sandeep Prabhu. Now read on…
By Dr. Shubha Vashisht, MD and Prof. Dr. K. Sandeep Prabhu, Ph.D
Chandrain Vasant Rao was the second of seven children of C. Govind Rao and Sharada. He was born in Nagar, Shimoga District of Karnataka on 12th May 1934 in his grandparents’ house. He spent his early years in Mysuru, attending Mahajana School and Sarada Vilas High School in Chamundipuram along with his sisters. He was a bright student with excellent academic credentials and was readily accepted into the Licensed Medical Practitioner (LMP) programme in Bengaluru.
Armed with an LMP, he interned with his doctor uncle in Hubli. This internship led him to pursue a full medical degree at Indore Medical College in 1957. While at Indore, he also obtained a Diploma in Ophthalmic Medicine & Surgery (DOMS). He worked for a short while in Bhopal and subsequently at Kasturba Medical College in Manipal, as a demonstrator in Anatomy. Following these short stints, he was commissioned in the Indian Army on 13th December 1959.
As a young doctor in the Army Medical Corps (AMC), his first field posting was to Jammu where he was affiliated to the Sikh Light Infantry regiment. Dr. Rao learned to speak broken Punjabi, which endeared him to his regiment.
He was later posted to Chushul in Leh district of Ladakh, on the Indo-China border, where he served as the army doctor in the regiment that fought the Chinese forces as they forcibly took Ladakh in 1962. Here he witnessed some horrific casualties that he had to treat, in the difficult conditions of high altitude and with only the basic resources of a field hospital. He remained there for a further 6 months after the ceasefire treating the wounded until it was safe to fly them to a base hospital.
His experiences of his time in Chushul had a significant impact on him that he continued to reflect on, even in his eighties. He once again found himself on the frontline, during the Indo-Pakistan War in 1965, when Pakistan sent its forces to infiltrate into Jammu and Kashmir, to begin an insurgency against India.
He was eventually posted to Military Hospital Lucknow, where he decided to complete his M. S. in Ophthalmology at KGMC (King George Medical College) Lucknow. He was awarded the Gold Medal in Ophthalmology in 1967 for his outstanding performance. As a full-fledged Ophthalmologist, he was posted to the Indian Naval Hospital, INHS Sanjeevani, in Kochi, where he decided to switch to the all-white uniform of the Indian Navy as Surgeon Lieutenant Commander.
He continued to serve in the Indian Navy with an 18-month- long tenure aboard INS Darshak, a survey ship during which he transformed several aspects of sailors’ lives with a focus on healthy diet and sobriety. The highlight of his naval career was his long tenure at INHS Asvini, the Navy’s flagship hospital in Colaba, Mumbai. During his 12 years at INHS Asvini from 1976 to 1988, he introduced many services that were new to Naval Hospitals at the time, such as contact lens clinics, paediatric squint surgery and carried out some delicate and exquisite surgery to repair traumatic injury to the eye.
During the latter part of his time at INHS Asvini, he was appointed as the Senior Advisor in Ophthalmology. He also acquired the status of a recognised and accredited post-graduate teacher and mentor to naval officers registered for M.S. Ophthalmology at Bombay (Mumbai) University and mentored many accomplished Naval ophthalmologists. He was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) in 1988 by the then President of India R. Venkataraman for outstanding service to Ophthalmology and the Navy.
He retired from the Indian Navy in 1989, while posted in Kochi for the second time. He led a contented retirement in Pune, while travelling to London, New York, and Chicago, to spend time with his three children and 6 grandchildren. He also made it a point to visit Mysuru whenever he got a chance to spend time with his family and friends, including late Brig. Gokhale and his wife whom he knew from his days in Mumbai.
In Pune, he established a free clinic in the Housing Society he lived in. He spent many hours each day for 16 years, until the age of 85, treating the poor, the elderly and anyone who had an ailment. He founded the Senior Citizen’s Club in Hermes Heritage Housing Society in Pune, and served as an active member in organising all the social activities of the Club.
He was an exceptional human being, blessed with immense humility and wisdom. He remained a kind and gentle soul and dedicated his life to the service of others, especially the poor and underprivileged. He started an informal scheme in which he encouraged well-off senior citizens to sponsor bright and capable children of his housing society’s janitorial and support staff. These children were supported financially with a regular monthly sum of money to ensure nutritious and high protein diets, access to study books and career counselling. He would monitor their progress personally by regular checks of their school report cards to scrutinise attendance and academic performance. Scores of children were supported in this way, to study and aim higher in life.
Sadly, he passed away on 13th December 2021 at the age of 87, after suffering a heart attack in Pune. He is survived by his wife of 63 years Sulabha Rao, children Dr. Shubha Vashisht, Asheeth Rao and Dr. Beena Palekar and fondly remembered by his grandchildren, his siblings and their families as well as the many people he helped and treated over the years.
Surgeon Commodore C.V. Rao led a contented life filled with compassion, optimism, dedication and commitment.