Saturday, January 12, 2008

The greatness of human nature – a true story

One July morning in 1938. A young man, eighteen years old, comes out of the Science College building in Trivandrum, Kerala after registering himself for B’Sc Chemistry.

A few hours later he is involved in a car accident. By about 4o’clock in the afternoon someone takes him to the General Hospital with severe head injuries and multiple fractures on one leg. He is admitted as an unidentified accident victim. He is a stranger to the capital city and no one knows him.

Two eminent surgeons of Travancore State (see: The last of the Travancore Maharajas), Dr. Jacob Taliat who was the then Superintendent of the hospital, and Dr. Kesavan Nair, both FRCS, undertake an 8-hours long operation to repair the head injuries. Setting the victim’s leg without any limp was to take nearly five months.

Next morning when the patient recovered consciousness he tells Dr. Taliat his name (Narayanan) and about enrolling for B’Sc. The doctor immediately calls Dr. Modgil, the Principal of Science College and a personal friend. The Principal (who was a Punjabi), checks the registration papers and finds that the boy had passed the Intermediate Examination of the Madras University with record marks. Dr. Modgil rushes to the hospital and calls on the boy along with Dr. Taliat. Such visits become routine.

Months pass. One day Narayanan asks Dr. Modgil whether he would be able to write the 1st B’Sc examination that year. He had not attended a single class yet. Pointing to Taliat, Modgil replies: But for this doctor you would have lost your life. Now you are worrying about losing one year.

A minimum attendance was required to write the examination. Only the Vice Chancellor of the newly formed Travancore University had the authority to grant exemption to this rule. That person was Dr. Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer, the Dewan (executive head under the Maharaja) of Travancotre. He was a controversial person who, among other things, was often accused of being dictatorial.

On Dr. Modgil’s recommendation, Sir CP (as the Dewan was generally known) looks into Narayanan’s previous records and allows him to write the examination. In 1940 the boy graduates in the First Class with rank. Parry & Company immediately grabs him as Research Assistant. The brilliant young chemist was keen on continuing with his studies in agriculture chemistry and Dr. Modgil wanted to offer him a Fellowship.

There was a problem though. Parry & Co was paying Narayanan Rs.200 a month. The University could offer only a stipend of Rs.50. Dr. Modgil goes to Sir CP who immediately increases the stipend fourfold.

And thus emerged Dr.CKN Nair who was to become internationally famous in his field. But not before Sir CP intervenes once more on his behalf. In 1946 the State bureaucracy tries to prevent Dr. Nair from proceeding to the U.S.A. for further studies. The Dewan however clears the program.

I am amazed by what Dr. Jacob Taliat, Dr. Kesaan Nair, Dr. Modgil and Sir CP did for a total stranger. Their kindness and generosity help one to reaffirm the faith in humanity.

[This is based on an autobiographical article by Dr. CKN Nair in the Mathrubhumi Weekly of July 21-27, 1998. I came across it in the archives at Thekkanattu Parayil, Olavipe]



Agn! Sharman said...

I liked this article!
If it was not for the internet, I would have missed reading it!

i invite you to read my bolg at

Thank you
Agni Sharman

Gowri Mohanakrishnan said...

Truly, the men in this story have vision and courage, and we must recollect how sadly we allow our thinking to be constricted. These courageous men recognised merit and ability where they saw it, and went ahead to do what they could to make sure the young man achieved his potential!

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post which highlights the generosity of those
illustrious humans in positions of power. Sure Sir CP was an autocrat, had his weaknesses
(he was one of my distant relatives,met him as a kid when my father introduced me to him at Ooty),earned his enemies but I know that he was the kind of person who would have done what you describe. Please read his biography 'Biographical Vistas'.
I am sure Dr Nair would in turn have helped others in need his own ways.

ER Ramachandran said...

Angels looked after Nair and cradled him from emergency after emergency.And the angels were all human beings! Wonderful!!
Thanks for narrating the real life story.

kallu said...

Its a good story. Thank your for recounting it so well that it captured us.

We all have shades of gray.As these men must have had. But, such deeds push that grey down to something small.
And allow us to search for the best in all of us too.

Sunita Mohan said...

What a lovely anecdote !
All my life I've had to base my knowledge of my grandfather on hushed references to "valiya Dr. Taliat" and his rather owlish photograph which dominated the living room. Didnt really know much about my grandfather who had died long before I was born.
In this one blog I can finally sense his personality.
What was really interesting in this story was how one person's good deed sparked off more from others. It almost reads like a contest of who can make more 'impossibles' possible.

Maddy said...

Interesting story. I think Dr Palpu's story is simlar, so also KR Narayanan, our late president. They were fortunate to find wealthy sponsors, in their quest for that changed their perspective & lives

Unknown said...

Sharman, thank you for the comment.
Shall try & visit your site.

Unknown said...

Yes, Gardenia, these men of vision recognized merit and encouraged it. That is something great.

Unknown said...

Thanks, Guru. I must get hold of a copy of 'Biographical Vistas'.

Unknown said...

er ramachandran, that is an appropriate comment. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Kallu, I'm glad that you liked the post. And you are so right - such deeds inspire others.

Unknown said...

sunita, I remember that photograph so well - white suite, broad dark tie, and the look.

Today, in which hospital can an 'orphan' get such attention?

I like your phrase - making 'impossibles' possible.

Unknown said...

Maddy, 'Chila nerangalil chila manutharukal' (Jayakanthan novel?)

Anjana said...

Hello Sir, I happened to come across your blog quite accidently yesterday. The stranger who was helped by Sir CP & others, Dr.C.K.N Nair is my grandfather.I was quite touched to see an article like this. Yes,Indeed, he always had the gratitude and fondness for Sir CP till the day he passed away five years back.He had even written an article about Sir CP a few years ago. To continue the story you had written in the blog, my grandfather after returning from the US became the principal & dean of the agricultural university and finally retired as the Director of Rubber Research Institute. He led a peaceful life as an author in his later years at our ancestral home.

Unknown said...

Anjana, comments like yours make my blogging worthwhile. Thanks.

Even though I have been associated with the rubber industry for decades, I didn't have the honour of meeting Dr. CKN Nair. In fact, till reading your comment I didn't know that the former Director of Rubber Research Institute and the person I wrote about were the same.

Earlier this month I was going through old copies of 'RUBBER' the official magazine of the Rubber Board in the course of research on JJ Murphy, the pioneer of rubber planting in India. I came across a photo and some writings of Dr. Nair. I am interested to know about the books Dr. Nair wrote during his sunset years.

You must be very proud of your grandfather.

Thanks once again for the comment.

Captain Fantastic said...

Pleasure to read your article. Ranjeet.