By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, Sep 8 (SocialNews.XYZ) One of India's foremost cardiologists, he is among the pioneers of non-surgical procedures on dealing with heart problems. A recipient of the prestigious Dr B. C. Roy Award, he has published many studies that have been acclaimed worldwide and has travelled across the globe, including to China and Pakistan, to deliver lectures on his professional expertise.
The founder of the Gauri Kaul Foundation in memory of his mother, Dr. Upendra Kaul has also travelled to the remote parts of Jammu and Kashmir and other parts of the country to promote his mission of "No Heart Attacks By 2025" - and longs for the day when he can permanently return to Srinagar, where he has already constructed a "two-storied house with three bedrooms, a lawn with seasonal flowers and even a mini kitchen garden".
"My desire to return to the green meadows and the snow-capped mountains of the Kashmir Valley burns like a wildfire within me. I dream and long of a day when I can finally settle there and spend my remaining life in its beauteous lap," Kaul writes in 'When The Heart Speaks - Memoirs of a Cardiologist' (Konark) that records his journey from his ancestral village in Hawal, Pulwama, through a difficult childhood, obtaining an MBBS at the Maulana Azad Medical College (New Delhi), his prolonged stint at the AIIMS, his globetrotting, the changing patterns of medical ethics and the start of kickbacks seen during his professional time and his being trolled by the members of his Pandit community for not letting religion come in the way of treating his patients.
"My mother always had a desire to return to the Valley and have a place of our own. She did not live long enough to see it but I wanted to fulfil this desire of hers. My friends are always delighted when I go and spend my time for a few days or a week there at least once a month. Travelling to all parts of the Valley and giving public talks on prevention of heart disease and building awareness about high blood pressure and diabetes bring joy to my life.
"I try to make the people of the Valley realise that managing these problems early can reduce the chances of heart attacks, strokes and kidney failures which are major public health problems. I have many colleagues and friends to help me in carrying out this mission," Kaul, who is also a regular contributor of educative articles on preventive medicine to the 'Greater Kashmir' daily, writes in the book.
Kashmir, his birthplace, though most of his education has been in Delhi, has always "enamoured" him and given him the strength "to become what little I have achieved today. In my younger days, the magnetic pull to go there for spending my vacations always made me perform better. Hence, my parents would willingly allow me to go as often as I could. My love for the people has always been reciprocated by them," Kaul writes.
Despite the "ill feelings" of Kashmiri Pandits towards the majority community after the happenings of 1990, "my affection for my people never changed", Kaul asserts, adding: "This has often led to criticism by many people, especially on social media, who have repeatedly questioned my integrity. My reaction has always been that we need to stand together and not be polarised".
"The very small Pandit community needs to realise this and move forward if we have to preserve our culture - which cannot be centric to just one religion. This preservation can only come by being in Kashmir as often as possible and not by imagining the serene Valley and trying to replicate the Valley elsewhere - in other parts of the world," Kaul maintains.
Thus, the Kashmiri heritage in him "continues to thrive and my visits to the Valley are becoming very frequent. On every visit, I go to see places which I had missed around the city and the Valley. I have developed friendship and intimacy with the young and old, poor and rich, and always tried to learn something about the Valley and its people," Kaul explains.
Dr Karan Singh, former Member of Parliament, visionary statesman and cultural ambassador and the prince regent of Jammu and Kashmir until 1952 and thereafter its Sadr-i-Riyasat till 1965, echoed Kaul's thoughts at the release of the book on Wednesday evening.
"Kashmir is beautiful and beguiling and the tragedy that has taken over the Valley since 1947 is heartbreaking...All the vidya I have got in life is from Kashmiri Pandits. They are an accomplished community and I must take this opportunity to express my deep and abiding gratitude to Kashmiri Pandits," Karan Singh said.
"The book teaches us the importance of living with your heart and the passion that the medical profession has which is more towards service. We all need to remind ourselves of that," said Dr. Randeep Guleria, the Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), which Kaul joined in 1981 and where he spent a considerable amount of time.
"During the making of this book, we couldn't help but be awed by the humble human being that Dr. Kaul is. He is always ready to help anyone who is in need, a quality that is rare to spot these days... Another reason why I would like to particularly commend Dr. Kaul is for the honesty that he has shown while talking about his chosen profession. He has not shied away from talking about the changing patterns of medical ethics and the start of kickbacks seen during his professional life," said K.P.R. Nair, Managing Director of Konark Publishers.
For instance, up to the middle of the 1990s, things were reasonably in order and the medical fraternity was held in very high esteem, Kaul writes. This was until the menace of kickbacks for referrals spread into the medical field, leading to patients being referred for unnecessary tests, prescribed unnecessary drugs and vitamin supplements.
"The menace slowly spread its tentacles all over the medical field, including radiological diagnostics and biochemistry laboratories. For every test ordered, 20 per cent of the bill was given back to the referring doctor. This led to doctors recommending unnecessary tests. The pharmaceutical companies also saw burgeoning business. Acclaimed doctors and specialists were given freebies, such as fancy TV sets, refrigerators, air conditioners and cars depending upon the prescriptions," Kaul writes.
"General practitioners would prescribe unnecessary drugs, multiple kinds of vitamin supplements and specific brands of drugs, and were given returns in cash. Very often, prescriptions were written in codes, which could be deciphered only by specific chemists," he adds.
In 2014, the issue of exorbitant prices of stents came up since the number of patients needing angioplasty was 500,000 per year with an annual increase of 30 per cent. A case was filed in the Delhi High Court, but it took three years before the government handed it to the National List of Essential Medicines to fix a price. It was discovered that the cost was being escalated by 1,000 to 2,000 times and there was no MRP on the cartoons.
"Finally, in 2017, a price cap of approximately Rs. 30,000 was mandated. It was a substantial reduction of at least Rs 90,000 for the imported drug-eluting stent for the patient needing it. Many private hospitals seeing the loss in profits started hiking up the procedure costs and promoting reuse of hardware during the procedure, a practice which is banned in Europe and the US. Such unhealthy practices need to be stopped by the hospitals and those found guilty need to be punished," Kaul asserts.
"Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth," is one of the enduring messages of the Bible, even in today's day and age. Dr. Upendra Kaul is living proof of this. May his tribe increase!
(Vishnu Makhijani can be reached at email@example.com)