We all know well that our beloved Chief Minister Dr. J. Jayalalithaa was pro-poor and that her heart was full of compassion for the underprivileged. But there was also another facet to this Iron Lady. She was very much in favour of the intellectual fraternity too—her heart beat for them because she was well aware that they could do great good for the people of Tamil Nadu. She had a knack of helping the needy by supporting deserving initiatives and worthy causes.
A heart-touching encounter
I have known Dr. J. Jayalalithaa since 1988. What I'm about to recount, however, dates back to when she was Chief Minister and when I had started my career at Vijaya Hospital. One day, we got a call from the Chief Minister's office, informing us that she was coming to the hospital with a patient. I told them that she need not take the trouble of coming, and I could visit her. But she insisted on coming with the patient. She said that all leading cardiologists had advised an open heart surgery but she wanted one more opinion from a surgeon. It was at that time that Vijaya Hospital had installed a cardiac catheterisation lab in a room renovated from a kitchen.
The then Special Protection Group (SPG) chief Mr. R.M. Savani rang me up and informed me that the Chief Minister would be arriving in half an hour with the patient. By 7pm she was there. On examining the patient, I was not convinced that they needed an open heart surgery, so we did a cardiac catheterisation to rule out the need for surgery. I told the CM there was absolutely nothing to worry about the patient's health and that they could stay for just a few hours and resume regular life. She informed the patient, "This is Dr. Cherian's birthday gift to you, that you do not need any surgery". This is my first encounter with the Hon'ble Chief Minister.
The Madras Medical Mission
Thanks to Jayalalithaa's unwavering support—from laying the foundation till the inauguration—the dream of a Madras Medical Mission became a reality.
In 1986, then Chief Minister Dr. M.G.R gave the go-ahead to start the Madras Medical Mission, which was acquired by the Housing Board three times. But after various stages of his illness and demise, we had to pursue the project with his successor Dr. Jayalalithaa. When I requested her, she promptly agreed to lay the foundation stone. During the ceremony, she donated a cheque for ₹5, 00,000. She publicly announced that it was her personal contribution towards the cause. All formalities were completed smoothly and all bureaucratic delays were eliminated. Just two weeks before the inauguration I informed the Chief Minister that there were nearly 150 foreign delegates visiting but the road from Thirumangalam to the Madras Medical Mission was narrow and shabby. Just four days before the inauguration the entire stretch of road from Thirumangalam to Mogappair was widened and neatly re-laid.
She enhanced the image of Tamil Nadu amongst the foreign delegates, and the world renowned cardio thoracic surgeon Dr. Christiaan Bernard openly appreciated that the approach to the hospital was very impressive.
A beneficiary of her compassion
On 15 February 2004, I had gone to Kerala for the inauguration of our small unit by Kerala Chief Minister, Mr. A.K. Antony. After the inauguration, I got a call from Dr Jayalalithaa's residence. I froze in surprise when I was told that the Hon'ble CM would light the kuthuvillakku and inaugurate Frontier Lifeline at around 11am on the 18th of the month. It was such a pleasant surprise, but as I said to her secretary, we did not have enough time to call people or print invitation cards!
The next day I rushed back from Kerala and sought an appointment with the Hon'ble Chief Minister. Throughout my travel, I wondered whether she would understand my hardships. Would the hard knocks she had suffered enable her to understand the plight of someone who had been thrown out with a false accusation of working against the society and also undertook the Herculean task of building another hospital? Humiliation helps people achieve greatness, but the support of great souls paves the way.
When I told her about the limited timeline, she again surprised me saying, "You don't need any advertisement. I will be there by 11.30am."
All arrangements were quickly made to inaugurate Frontier Lifeline Hospital and the Chief Minister promptly reached there at 11.30 am on the 18th of February 2004. Her first question to me was, "Do you know why I kept the date as 18th?" I had to guess. I asked whether 9 was her lucky number as most people had suggested. She replied with a smile, "Today Is Mahashivratri and the auspicious time starts now."
She looked around the hospital and was impressed. Her next question was, "Do you want to build a hospital in the city, bigger than this, to help more people through your charitable trust? I can help you to get 10 acres." I replied that I would be unable to build another hospital right then, but would certainly be interested in contributing to medical science by starting a basic medical science park in a village
The next day, I got a call from the Thiruvallur collector that Madam had instructed him to identify a place at Thiruvallur. Her personal involvement shows her great interest in the science of medicine. She placed her trust in me with the belief that I would fulfill my duty and never sell the property for any reason. Indeed, I have had to withstand immense pressure from bankers, financial institutions and shareholders to sell out the Mediville project, at Elavur village. I am holding out in the hope of turning things around and in respect of her trust in me.
Being a great visionary, she could foresee that this project could become the first medical SEZ in India that would in turn help many people of various strata—not just the poor, but also intellectuals and scientists— to learn, research and update.
Two great inspirations— Mother Teresa and Amma
One day, I got a call at 6pm from CM's office that I had to receive Mother Teresa, and accompany her from airport to the venue of International Women's Day celebrations. I generally accompanied Mother Teresa every time she visited Chennai.
The next day when I picked up Mother Teresa, she told me that she could spend time only for 20 minutes at the function and from there she had to go for a prayer meeting. She told me to remind her in exactly 20 minutes. The meeting started with all the dignitaries on the dais. As I was instructed by the by the Mother, I reminded her exactly in 20 minutes. The Chief Minister turned at me and asked what the purpose was. I told her that the mother had a prayer meeting and told me to remind her, and that's why I reminded her. When she heard this, the Chief Minister ensured that Mother Teresa left without any further delay.