Government Medical College Chandigarh Old Students Association
NOSTALGIA...WITH PROF HARSH MOHAN
Our editor Hemender Singh (’91), caught up with Prof Harsh Mohan, Head, Department of Pathology and President Elect of the Indian Association of Pathologists and Microbiolo-gists. He shares memories and experiences that he has accumulated over the past 13 years at GMCH.
Editors (Eds.): We have known you from the very early years of GMC. What made you come to GMC? Was it a very tough decision?
Prof Harsh Mohan (HM): Well, yes, it was, and it continues to be, the dream of any serious and ambitious professional medico serving in academic position to rise to the top slot at a good place. At that time (end-1993) when I had to take a decision between continuing with a settled home, well respected professional and social life at Rohtak on one hand, versus a challenging job ahead of heading and establishing a totally new department from scratch, I chose the latter for two main reasons. Firstly, I was relatively young (I was about 40 then) and was full of energies, initiative, motivation and had a vision of what I wanted to develop and was thus prepared to take the challenge. Secondly, my wife was quite supportive of the idea of shifting out of Rohtak for prospects of better life in this city, especially for both our daughters who were at that time 6 and 12 years old. We moved to Chandigarh in installments though – I moved here on 31st December 1993, my daughters joined me at the beginning of their academic session for schools in April 1994, while my wife followed us later here in January 1996.
Eds.: GMC had some very rough initial years and you were at the forefront of the struggle with the students of the first batch in their fight for the recognition. Did you ever consider leaving GMC at that time? What made you stay back?
HM: The period of 1995 and 1996 was surely full of tribulations for our brilliant and highly motivated students of first batch, as also for faculty, since this period was full of uncertainties for all. While the best of students from Chandigarh had invested their valuable five years with hopes for a bright and shining future ahead, recognition of the MBBS course by the Medical Council of India was elusive since the MCI was not willing to budge from its stand on twin issues of having own functional hospital for the GMCH instead of attached General Hospital-16 and on having own faculty of the college rather than borrowed faculty taken on deputation from different institutions. There were gloomy and depressing times in between, especially in 1995 when the first batch of students had to take the university exam of final professional under supervision of MCI observers with the entire faculty being on temporary appointment either on deputation or ad hoc basis. Besides, there had been change of guard at the level of Director Principal in the college, with Prof Chopra having superannuated in June 1995 and Prof Kak taking over in August 1995. But I must say that both Prof Chopra and Prof Kak together made sure that a leadership vacuum did not develop. Instead, the changed leadership in the institution led to further consolidation of plans and gains and led to quick decisions of far-reaching consequences for future of the college—MCI inspection of the final exam of first batch, initiation of advertisement of the faculty posts for filling on regular basis through UPSC, and a stop gap arrangement in having faculty on contract.
I must confess here that between June 1995 and August 1995, I had seriously considered going back to Rohtak owing to above reasons as well as pressure from Haryana Government for joining back in Rohtak, but I changed my mind after August-September 1995 sometime after joining of Prof Kak. I think it must go to the credit of Prof Kak that besides his several other qualities, he had a very sharp eye to spot the potential in individuals and put that to fullest use for the institution and that influenced me greatly to change my mind.
Eds.: What was your opinion of the first few batches of GMC when they were being impudent due to their struggles with MCI? Has that opinion now changed over the years?
HM: I think the first few batches of our undergraduates were much more sincere, honest and determined in their professional approach and exemplary conduct, which coupled with direction from some well meaning faculty members, led to our success in having timely recognition from MCI. At the same time, recruitment of faculty on regular basis too commenced in all earnest; resultantly those working on deputation were either regularized after selection through UPSC or they went back in the next 1 to 2 years. It goes to the credit of students of the first few batches that they have retained their old values and respect for their teachers and concern and caring attitude for their alumni. Not that all is not as well now, but, in general, the present lot of students have probably become much more materialistic and do not share a similar emotional bond of teacher-taught but have instead come to treat this relationship as consumer-provider. But then, there is universal change in value system!
Eds.: Besides the charm of the city, what do you think makes GMC so special for so many students who want to come here? Do you think the college authorities are doing enough to maintain standards and keep it attractive like that?
HM: No doubt, GMC has been privileged in attracting highly meritorious students, whether in MBBS or in MD/MS courses, whether from the city or through All-India entrance examinations from other parts of the country. None of the other state medical colleges in the entire North India can take such a pride. However, on the part of authorities, I regret that barring sporadic involvement of the faculty, mainly at their personal level, there is no conscious or organized attempt at official level to maintain such an attraction. Nevertheless, the fact remains that infrastructure of the institution is quite modern having developed in 1990s and that faculty is relatively young and energetic, makes it fairly attractive package. However, there is certainly a need to harness the energy and potential of dynamic faculty and channelize it in a positive and creative manner for further progress of GMCH, or else they would divert their efforts towards non-productive and selfish issues over and above the institutional issues and bring it to a destructive course like most other Government-run state medical colleges have gone in the vicinity.
Eds.: You have taken over other responsibilities in the hospital besides your academic work. Has that affected you in any way? Do you still get to spend enough time in pathology?
HM: On an earlier occasion in 2000, I had declined to take up the additional responsibility of Medical Superintendent due to my academic and family commitments at that time. Again, in 2004 while I had applied for the post of DP in UPSC along with 9 other Professors, but I took a conscious decision of not appearing for the interview although all other 9 had appeared for the interview. That is a different matter that officiating DP Prof Swami only got selected through UPSC then. But in December 2005, I could not refuse in spite of my other academic commitments and took a plunge to take up the additional responsibility as MS. This decision was, however, much against the advice of my mentor settled abroad (Incidentally I have voluntarily quit recently as MS in December 2007). Since January 2007, I have also been assigned the charge as Professor-Incharge Academics — which I am continuing because I am happy to contribute my bit for academics and for the present and former students in some way if I can. All this time, my loyalty and commitment to my specialty, department and family has always remained undisputedly supreme and therefore I try my best to spend as much quality time and put efforts on them as possible.
Eds.: I was recently in Maharashtra on a volunteer health mission trip. I met physicians there who had read your book for pathology and were all words for it. How do you feel when you hear such good things about your creation?
HM: My books have surely brought me closer to my students. Through this medium, I feel like a teacher to whole lot of students in the country (and abroad in some countries) and thus do not remain confined to the narrow confines of the institution where I serve and teach. My books for MBBS and BDS students (they are also read by postgraduates in some colleges) have progressed very well in terms of their circulation and popularity, but comments from students and fellow teachers give me the greatest satisfaction and happiness. These encourage me so much that if I get time I would like to undertake more of such projects for uncovered streams of students of pathology such as for paramedical courses. The success of books has surely not only made me more humble and contended but it also keeps reminding me of responsibility of revising and updating them periodically to keep in line with current times and expectations of users.
Eds.: We are trying to promote research skills of our students and invoke their interest in scholarly activities to expose them to the present day world of medicine. What do you think of these efforts, and being a senior faculty member, what other recommendations do you have for improvement?
HM: GMC has been ranked 24th in All-India Ranking of Medical Colleges done by India Today in its annual issue on May 2007. While it is a reason for celebration for all of us that we have achieved this high rank in such a short time of about 15 years, but at the same time we need to ponder why we are not among the top 10 in the country! I think the main reason about this is two-fold: research activity/ scientific publications by the institution and the placement of alumni. This is where there is role of support for all kinds for development of aptitude for research by the students from early years. The effort by the senior former students in this regard is certainly laudable and they should have official support and encouragement too.
Eds.: You have worked with various Directors. Do you have any experiences to share?
HM: Yes, I had the opportunity of serving this institution with all the DPs since inception of this college. While there has always been something to learn from experiences of all of them, surely the period of having served with the first two DPs, Prof Chopra and Prof Kak, has been memorable period since there was so much to learn from their style of working, public speaking and social interaction. It appears ironic that we all human beings miss all that is gone by but do not value it as much when we have them.
Let me recall one important utterance by these two gentlemen during their times: Prof Chopra, when certain professor was trying to accompany him down the stairs in the building, commented once “Oye, tussi whele ho, tuhanu koi kamm nahin je mere pichhe pichhe ture aande ho” and Prof Kak on reluctance of some person to perform according to his standards and norms commented “I am not here to waste my time”.
Eds.: I heard you have a daughter in the US. How is she doing? Have you visited the US? Do you get to spend time with your family considering you have so many professional responsibilities?
HM: Besides my professional pursuits, I have taken care that all members of my immediate family develop well professionally and become useful to the society. My wife Praveen has been back in India after her 6 years sojourn in Kuwait, as Professor and Head in Obstetrics and Gynecology in a private medical college, Gian Sagar Medical College at Banur near Patiala for the last one year. Our elder daughter, after finishing her graduation in chemical engineering in India, moved to US in 2003 to pursue MS in her specialty and has been in a job in US for the last two years. Our younger daughter is in her third year of BDS course in Government Dental College at Rohtak. We have all visited the US since our older one moved there and I have also made two professional visits to this country - one as a visiting professor at the University of Massachusetts at Worcester, MA, and the other at Harvard Medical School, Boston, for a CME program.
I strongly believe that we need to draw a balance in our life between profession and family. My professional commitments extend far from my department and institution and include role at national level as Editor of Indian Journal of Pathology and Microbiology for 5 years ending in December 2007 and now as President of Indian Association of Pathologists and Microbiologists for 2008, authorship and periodic revision of books, travel to several places to deliver guest lectures and conduct slide seminars as guest faculty at conferences or CME’s, and conduct examination or inspection for MBBS, MD or DNB. Nevertheless, I have always given an equally great importance to my family. In fact, since our children have moved to pursue their respective professional goals, we almost invariably travel together during my professional visits.
Eds.: Any last words of advice…
HM: I would end by saying that I have kept my motto in life to give my best to my profession and family by performing deeds (Karma) and not in words, and this has given me greatest satisfaction and is key to happiness. Success, material comforts, popularity, position etc follow if we are able to draw a balance in life between profession and family.
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