During the early “Matunga” days of this column, I used to discuss the “Four Pillars of Matunga”. For South Indians, these were/are Giri Stores, Mysore Concerns, Nalli Silk Stores and Anand Bhuvan. For Gujjus and Kutchhis, these were/are, Garnish/Classic, Anand Bhuvan/Udipi/Madras Cafe, Chheda Stores and Pramanik/Milap. Matunga is still a hotch-potch of cultures, though the old Tamm-Bramm ethos is slowly giving way to a Gujju/Kutchhi mindset.
Yet, when it comes to seeking medical treatment, irrespective of whether you are a true-blood Iyer or a Derawasi Jain, chances are that in the last 40-50 odd years, you or your children or your parents have at least once been treated by Dr. M. S. Sabnis. He was one of the strongest pillars of Matunga, someone who was able to cut across all castes and creeds and as a Maharashtrian was welcomed into a predominantly Tamil / Gujju suburb, no questions asked. Parag, his son, once told me that when his father first started practice, he was told that he would never do well in this locality. He proved everyone wrong and went onto become an extremely popular family physician.
When I was a child, he fitted the classic perception of a family physician…one whose mere entry into your room would make you feel better, twice over. Each time I had high fever or an asthmatic attack, just his presence was medicine enough…once he had seen me, I knew I was going to be fine.
Over the years, as his son Parag started sitting in the same clinic, my interaction with Dr. Sabnis Sr reduced, simply because my connect with Parag as equals was that much better. Yet, my parents and their peers would continue to seek out his father, and once he restricted his practice to the mornings, there was a distinct set of populations visiting the clinic; the elderly who wanted to see Sabnis Sr in the mornings, and the younger lot that would come to see Parag in the evenings.
It is a shame that the family physician is a dying breed. I wrote about this a few months ago and I reiterate. In the end, we all need a “directing” physician like Dr. Sabnis, who can take care of our health needs at the ground level.
Last month, I had a call from a neighbor seeking advice about a recently diagnosed chronic condition. The neighbor wanted to know who to see and whether the surgeon they had met was good or not and what to do next. I am not kidding…I said this at least five times to the patient, the parent and a well-wisher, “this is a life-long problem and you should first get yourself a family physician who will help you interact with a good set of consultants and take care of the chronic issues that are likely to arise as the years go by.” It was as if I was talking to a stone wall and so I gave up and refused to get involved further.
Dr. Sabnis knew his patients and their problems, both medical and otherwise, held their hands through their chronic issues and quickly sorted out their acute ailments. Of course, he did not know everything…and like all good family physicians, he had an excellent rapport with most of Mumbai’s good consultants who he could send his patients to, as and when needed and required.
He had a bad last few days, battling for his life. But he had a great life, a terrific, loving family and sons and grand-children to be proud of.
Matunga has lost a strong pillar!