A Pillar of Matunga…Lost Forever

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!


  • Srichand Hemrajani wrote:

    Condolences on the sad demise of your loved one.

  • Pushpendra Shah wrote:

    I can see how much he was part of the community, we lost our GP about 4 years ago (having been with him for 27 years ) and we were .
    My barber of 42 years went last year . . .

  • Dr Deepak Jagiasi wrote:

    May his soul rest in peace ! Good family physicians are required everywhere, Dr Sabnis wil live forever in our hearts.

  • we have a lot of such dedicated people in Matunga, like Dr.N.S.Kumta, Dr.S.S.Sobti, Dr.S.S.Rao.The old order has to give way to the new, which is not what the older people want.Everything is totally comercialised in today’s unfortunate situation.So lets grin and bear it.

    I have such lovely memories of Matunga where I spent good 22 years of my best youthful life.

  • gita subramanian wrote:

    That was a wonderful piece of writing. Being a Tambram myself, I still have relatives living in Matunga, while some of them have shifted to the suburbs.
    You are right, the family physician should be consulted first.
    In Borivali, we have Dr. Sharad Mehta, who knowledge and experience is worth 100 specials rolled into one.
    I was diagoned with TB 9 years back and was on medication. It was impossible for me to walk right due to dizziness.
    When i showed Dr. Mehta my case file, he immediately pointed out to a medicine and asked me to discontinue it. He told me bluntly that the medicine was causing dizziness. Not only that, he added that the medicine was not necessary because the other medicines were capable of handling the medical condition.
    And mind you, the prescription was by a noteworthy lung specialist in Borivali.
    Needless to say, my dizziness stopped and i was cured within 6 months.
    He has such a roaring practise that he checks 200-300 patients in one single day. it is easier to access a specialist that Dr. Mehta. He is like the Godman of Borivali

  • V.Subramanian wrote:

    Apart from Dr.Sabnis,the Iyers and Iyengars, went to ( from mid 50’s to mid 80’s) Dr.Gopalchari,Dr.Krishnan,Dr.Varadachary and also Dr.Dhurandhar (Napoo garden).When a young and active doctor passes away, it is a great loss to the society and cruel reminder from the creator that even doctors are Humans.

  • Anytime we had a health issue, my masi used to recommend us to see Dr.Sabnis even though we didnt live in matunga, she had lots of confidence in him.Dr.Sabnis was the family physician for my baa’s house in matunga which consisted of baa, her two sons, all of my 6 aunts and eventually the wives and kids of my uncles! Dr.Sabnis will always be remembered..

  • Armaity Surendra Patel wrote:

    Firstly, Dr.Sabnis will live in the hearts of his patients for eternity, just like our family physician in Grant Road, Late Dr. Jehangir Irani who was like an angel to his patients rather than a doctor. He was my mom and granny’s physician then he became our physician from the time of nmy birth in 1941, His just one touch healed all his patients, I must say the whole GrantRoad population visited him. He rememberd my sister’s and my names till we reached 50+ not only that he rememberd our children’s names too!!! Most of the time he paid from his own pocket for his patients. Also one of the only doctors to treat downtrodden women of Foras Road and other “Red Light” areas! He served people till his last breath despite facing tragedies in his life. He lost his young son, then his wife then again his daughter who was also a doctor! Now servived by his son! This great soul too lives in the hearts of his patients.

  • Kavita Daiya wrote:

    Thank you so much for writing this: indeed, no words will be adequate to honor Dr. Sabnis, a truly great doctor and human being. He treated 4 generations of my family, and truly epitomized all that is good about the medical profession. I especially respected how he treated those who were poor and working class at extremely low rates (almost for free); in an age when doctors charge a small fortune for a 10 minute consult, he stands out to me for his unflagging integrity and kindness. His smile, his good cheer, his brisk energy and his generous spirit will be deeply missed in Matunga and beyond.

  • Jayesh Desai wrote:

    i am a general practitioner, i did not know Dr. Subnis personally, but my friends from Matunga and Sion knew him. they always spoke very highly of him and through them I came to know about his passing away. I was also told that patients kept a meeting in Matunga to remember him and prey for him, What better rewards one get in professional life in this days when fame lasts till commercials come on! He will be inspiration for GP’s. Lastly if you search and give respect to GP’s you can still find good one’s, but people this days are impressed more by furniture and gadgets then doctor and not willing to pay even 1/10th of what they pay to “consultant”. RIP Dr. Subnis

  • As usual, you touched up on a very vital point in your eloquent style. Dr. Sabnis is a person here, but it was a class of doctors who represented help and hope for families. I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Ramchandran who used to practice at Chembur, near Chembur station. He was from Matunga. I went through a very difficult stressful period of time when work- pressure was high and Dr. Ramchandran would treat me with minimal medicine but with compassion, guidance and natural treatment like walking. Last year, we met an equivalent, he is a specialist. Dr. Parag Munshi is an orthopedic surgeon with a pair of magic hands and a golden heart. He gives so much of confidence and shares so much of empathy, that one gets the confidence and the relief. I think the class which Dr. Sabnis represented, they still exist, one needs to find them. RIP Dr. Sabnis.

  • Rohit Gosalia wrote:

    We had Dr Vadibhai Kamdar in Vile Parle – who was man of few words but great conviction. Apart from being excellent family doctor – had great generosity. He helped and supported personally many ‘poor’ bright students to complete higher studies selflessly. He was most popular and was very close to all Gujaratis in general and particularly literates / poets / professors of Mithibai college including Principal Amrutlal Yagnik.

  • My Dear Bhavin
    Your write up on Dr. Sabnis as the strong medical pillar of Matunga touched my heart. My sincere condolences to his son Parag and also a request for you to identify such lovely ombudsmen from our area and report inyour column.

    Warm regards

  • In your inimmitable style, you have brought fond memories of Matunga. We’ve become increasingly crass so much so that the reverence that we used to have for doctors and their ilk is now gone. It is sad, yet true.
    For instance, my friend swears that dentists these days are like car mechanics! They always ensure that along with the solution to the problem-tooth that they provide, they touch another good tooth and create a fresh issue..so that they have a regular client base.
    For old timers like us, it is truly shocking. We used to surrender our teeth and everything else to Dr Shankar Iyer (in that main road stretch between Matunga and Dadar. It fails my memory now)….! Such was the faith we used to repose in doctors and dentists. It’s a thing of the past in this doc-eat-doc world!

  • Yes, I do agree. One should have a family physician and we are lucky to have one. He is my cousin, Dr. Uday. I fully trust him his diagnosis and his recommended doctor / doctors (whenever he does recommend). I fully trust my doctor and for that matter I have all the faith in all my doctors and the Medical Profession. Just the way my mother did. (Incidentally, prior to my mother’s death, Tata Memorial Hospital records showed my mother as ‘the longest surviving cancer patient’ with her photograph below it and which would often be circulated among the resident cancer patients as a morale booster.) This is so despite of reading some startling revelations made, like the one forwarded by my friend Neville captioned ‘Heart Surgeon Admits Huge Mistake By Dwight Lundell, M.D.’ (It was interesting as well as enlightening). But sometimes patients too are wrong about their doctors. [I have elaborately written on the subject – refer to my blog – ‘http//vinaytrilokekar.blogspot.in’]


  • Anand Desai wrote:

    R.I.P Dr Sabnis

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