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Colonel Bharucha – A Chapter in KE’s Parsee Past

By Usama Irshad
4th Year MBBS

Long ago and far removed from the present-day militancy-ridden, crumbling, concrete giant of a city, Lahore used to be an exciting metropolis once, a shining jewel in the crown of the British Empire, the heart of the land of five rivers and the “cultural capital” of the Indian Subcontinent. It was in this Lahore of the early twentieth century where on an average street you could find English men in their smartly-tailored tails and breeches, young Hindu girls in colorful billowy saris, Sikh men with flowing beards and daggers and Muslims with their skull caps and achkans, that another very small community also lived, thrived and contributed heavily to the progress of this great city. They were the Zoroastrians or the Parsees as they are better known. Originating in the ancient land of Persia, members of this small community are today found all over the world.

One such Parsee man, an outstanding surgeon, a brilliant teacher and a dynamic, selfless leader to his community who lived in British Lahore was Colonel P. B. Bharucha.
I first came across this name while reading Bapsi Sidhwa’s Cracking India as a kid. The novel is loosely based on the writer’s personal experiences of the Partition of India narrated through the eyes of a young Parsee girl, Lenny. Having been afflicted with polio in her childhood, Sidhwa spent countless hours waiting for her doctor’s appointments, sitting on a rusty bench in one of the dank corridors in Mayo Hospital. P.B. Bharucha was a senior surgeon at Mayo Hospital, Professor of Anatomy and Principal of King Edward Medical College, Lahore at that time.

Colonel P. B. Bharucha

I had all but forgotten this very interesting man until very recently when upon visiting the recently renovated Library Hall I suddenly came across his portrait. Memories came flooding back and I went home and wiped the dust off my tattered old copy of Cracking India. And there he was, Colonel P. B. Bharucha more alive than ever.

Sidhwa describes him as a charismatic middle aged man with just the right amount of quintessential Parsee humor. Being her physician, as well as a close family friend and the leader of the Parsee community in Lahore, Bharucha was a constant presence in Sidhwa’s early childhood days.
Colonel Bharucha arguing that it was the blasted British who brought polio to India. Colonel Bharucha giving a speech on the rooftop of the YMCA Building on the Mall, advising his community to stay ambivalent in this Hindu-Muslim rivalry. “We must hunt with the hounds and run with the hare!” Colonel Bharucha slowly working on removing a plaster cast on Lenny’s paralyzed leg. The sound of his chisel and hammer. The young girl’s fear and pain. Colonel Bharucha making house calls at Lenny’s place. Colonel Bharucha cracking jokes. Colonel Bharucha being eccentric. And pragmatic. And stern.

Bapsi Sidhwa presently resides in Housten, Texas. I sent her an email asking her to share some of her childhood memories of Dr Bharucha with me, to which she very graciously and promptly replied, “Colonel Bharucha was a famous surgeon at Mayo Hospital when I was a kid. He operated on my foot when I was three or four. I visited him regularly at Mayo Hospital for several years as a child. Those visits were very fearsome to me. My childhood memories of Colonel Bharucha are those of a very gentle and funny man.”

After the partition of India and the accession of Lahore to Pakistan, Colonel Bharucha like so many other Parsees migrated to Bombay, India, which houses a big, cheerful Parsee community. Having retired from Her Majesty’s army and his duties as the Principal of KEMC, he was now appointed as the superintendent of the TATA Memorial Hospital in Bombay. Colonel Bharucha led a quiet life with his wife and three daughters in Bombay until his death in 1970.
I came across his obituary in one of the British medical journals.“A selfless worker who never spared himself, he was revered by all his many pupils as fine teacher, a superb diagnostician, and an outstanding Professor of Surgery.”

Colonel Bharucha's obituary in Annals of The Royal College of Surgeons of England

In spirit Colonel Bharucha still lives among us and roams the hallowed corridors of Mayo Hospital and KEMC, once his home, where even today hundreds of fledgling physicians learn the art of healing under his kind, watchful eyes.

And of course then there’s his portrait in its gilded frame adorning the grand Library Hall in which his sharp, intelligent face is wreathed in a gentle smile. And as I stand facing his portrait in the Library Hall, a sudden realization dawns afresh upon my mind – with such strong, dynamic men among the founding fathers of this great seat of learning, no wonder it continues to be home to the crème de la crème of the medical community! 


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