Carry on, young Dr. Hiranandani!
At 85, DR. L. H. HIRANANDANI, who had a hospital named after him, has many more ambitions left to be fulfilled, he tells MARK MANUEL.
DR. LAKHUMAL Hiranand Hiranandani, Bombay's eminent and popular ENT surgeon, turned 85 on Tuesday. To celebrate the event (and 85 years is an event in any man's life, after that 100) his sons Niranjan and Surendra, both builders, and Navin, an ENT himself, laid the foundation stone for an ear, nose and throat hospital in Powai in the great doctor's name. It will come up in five years' time. I believe Dr. Hiranandani, despite the advancing age, was on his feet that day from 9 to 4 at Powai. He met some 3,000 people who came to felicitate him. And an equal number of students from the Hiranandani Foundation Schools of Powai and Thane. Next morning, which was yesterday, as fresh as a daisy, he came to Afternoon House to meet me dressed in his trademark white bush-shirt and pant, a gleaming Mercedes Benz dropping him off at my doorstep.
He came straight from Bombay Hospital where he had performed an operation, an oesophagoscopy, on a patient who was having difficulty in swallowing. And I had been wondering whether at his age he was still capable of doing such delicate work as an ENT surgeon's entailed! While the receptionist was calling to announce his arrival, Dr. Hiranandani took the stairs to come up two storeys and see me. He pranced into my office like a young Fred Astaire, light on his feet, arms extended, grinning like a schoolboy who had recently celebrated his 15th birthday. This is something about him that has never ceased to amaze me. His boundless energy and his great enthusiasm for life. Farzana Contractor tells me there was a time not so long ago when he ran up 16 floors of her building with two boxes of mangoes under either arm!
Dr. Hiranandani remembered that incident well. "I don't feel my age," he said, God-blessing himself. "Up to 82, I was bouncing! I used to do eight floors five times a day, up and down, as an early morning exercise in my Malabar Hill building. Then I had a coronary problem. Now my doctors don't allow me to climb more than three storeys." "Who are your doctors?" I asked. "All my good friends, all heart specialists, Goyal, Munshi, Shetty, Menon, also Farokh Udwadia. Anybody will look after me." Not that Dr. Hiranandani needs looking after. He is active and fully involved with life and his practice. Every evening between 4 and 7 he is at his consulting room in Amarchand Mansion near Regal Cinema. And he operates from out of Breach Candy, Bombay Hospital and Jaslok, doing as many surgeries as he is called upon to perform.
He talked about his age. At 85, Dr. Hiranandani is not afraid of death, in fact, he is too busy celebrating life and enjoying his work. "But, my God, I want to be young again," he said wistfully. "I wish for rejuvenation, what they call kaya kalph in Hindi, so that I might join medical college again, grow from poverty to riches in every conceivable form. To have money, position, name, to have so many friends, to be able to travel all over the world, to be honoured." He, of course, has had all this and more. There's no part of the world where Dr. Hiranandani has not been invited to deliver lectures. And to receive honours. "They all came as surprises," he revealed. "I have no desire for so many. The Padma Bhushan, the Dhanvantri, the ENT Doctor of the Millennium, the ENT of SAARC Nations, which includes Pakistan."
He is of Pakistani origin, that story has been told time and again. The last time he visited his birthplace, which is Tatta in Sindh, was in 1983. He had been invited to be the chief guest at Pakistan's National Conference of ENT Surgeons. And he went around the country after that, zigzagging his way from Baluchistan to Lahore to Islamabad to the North West Frontier Province. "The kind of hospitality I received there I have not even enjoyed in India," Dr. Hiranandani told me now. "There was one doctor who wished I had been a Muslim! This fellow said, 'To be so popular in Pakistan, to be honoured by the people, the government, you ought to have been a Muslim!'," Dr. Hiranandani reported. "I did not take it ill, in fact, I felt honoured. But I told that doctor, 'I don't pray and to be a Muslim I must pray namaz five times a day. Why do you want to spoil such a wonderful religion!'"
I asked him about God because, in the order of things, man at his age generally tends to start believing lesser in himself and more in the Almighty. But not Dr. Hiranandani. "The only thing I pray for is an easy death," he said. "I have drafted out what I call my living will. In it I have said that if I fall ill, I should not be put on tubes, no extraordinary measures should be taken to save me. I should be allowed to go. If I am conscious, I will, of course, know how to decide my own treatment. I will not want to prolong my life." And as casually as if he was discussing the weather, Dr. Hiranandani told me about the time he nearly committed suicide. Yes, suicide! "I developed this excruciating pain in my head and was certain it was cancer. I got a CT MRI done and told myself that if it was cancer, I would not go through X-rays and chemotherapy. No suffering. As a doctor, I know how to end my life. But luckily, all I had was a toothache!" It is this way with him, he can talk about old age and death as easily and comfortably as he can talk about life and his remaining ambitions. "I had two left till recently," Dr. Hiranandani said. "One was to build a school because when I was young, my mother could not afford to pay one anna for my primary school fees. So my sons built two schools for me in Powai and Thane. And my other ambition was to build a hospital because when I was eight in Sindh, I was dying of malaria and I could not get quinine for treatment. I know what it means to be ill and need hospitalisation and not have it. Now my sons are doing me the honour by building a hospital in my name! I am happy. But at 85 I am still not satisfied. I am ambitious. I have different kinds of demands. Now I want to live at least five more years. Pray for me, pray that I have five years of healthy life, I want to see the Dr. L. H. Hiranandani Hospital growing."
I wanted to tell him that I, too, was not a praying man, but that he would live to be 90 and more. And that his sons, his wife Kanta, and his six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren would celebrate his 100th birthday as they did his 85th on Tuesday. That he would continue to see patients at his consulting room and operate out of Bombay's leading hospitals. Also, that at the international level, the world would continue to recognise him as India's premier head and neck surgeon. And when the time came, the first operations for tonsils and sinusitis, and for cancers of the ear, jaw and nose at the Dr. L. H. Hiranandani Hospital in Powai would be done by him. But young Dr. Hiranandani had sprang to his feet energetically and was ready to go. He led me out of my office, holding the door open for me, and then took the stairs skipping lightly down from one step to the next. The Mercedes was at the door, its engine purring gently. "Where to?" I asked as he slid into the back seat. "To my clinic to see patients, where do you think," he replied.