The Calcutta School Of Tropical Medicine
Today the Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, like most Calcutta institutions is in a state of semi paralysed stupor. It was established in 1921. Behind its establishment lay a suggestion by Dr Alfred Mc Cabe Dallas, a medical officer in an Assam Tea garden who, in a letter published on the 10 March 1910 to the Englishman newspaper, (the then pillar of the Calcutta imperial establishment,) suggested that a School of Tropical Medicine be set up. He suggested Assam as allocation as he felt that here there was a large pool of patients. His suggestion was taken up by Sir Leonard Rogers (1868-1962). Sir Leonard was the Professor of Pathology at the Medical College, Calcutta. Born in Cornwall, he studied medicine at the St Mary’s Hospital in London, before joining the Indian Medical Service in 1893. He was one of the first pathologists in India and did some good work in leishmaniasis before being appointed to the Chair of Pathology at the Medical College in 1900. He wrote hugely influential book, Fevers in the Tropics in 1908 and was considered one of the leading authorities in the world in the field of tropical diseases.
Sir Leonard was very much taken up by the idea and he in turn wrote an editorial in the same newspaper on the 21st March of the same year where he (naturally) suggested that this was very good idea and that it would be ideal if it was set up at a major medical college and suggested that the Medical College, Calcutta would be ideal place as it was already the premier medical establishment in the East and had several laboratories which could be used for this purpose. When the reigning monarch Edward the VII died on 6 May 1910, Sir Leonard immediately suggested that it would be a fitting memorial to the departed King. Unfortunately nothing came of this (the authorities built a statue instead.)
However Sir Leonard was influential and he managed to influence Charles Pardey Lukis , the then Director General of the Indian Medical Service. Lukis was a past principal of the Calcutta Medical College and had already set up some research initiatives for IMS officers. He was supportive to the idea and the Government of India (which had in the meanwhile shifted to Delhi as Calcutta lost its status as the imperial capital) wrote to the Bengal Government supporting the idea.
There now began an undignified struggle between the two governments regarding the funding of the institution and a round of bureaucratic wrangling about who was to pay the salaries of the 6 professors who were proposed by Sir Leonard. After much ado and letters flying to and forth and much lobbying, the matters were settled and whole area of land south of Colootola Street adjacent to the Medical College was purchased for this purpose. Sir Leonard proved to be a very shrewd bargainer and he managed to also get a hospital sanctioned as well, where there would be a large number of beds under his direct control. As Professor of Pathology he did not have any beds in the medical college, but here he would be able to control all the beds as the Professor of Tropical Medicine. To achieve his ends he used all the wiles of the seasoned government servant, including a threat to resign, but finally he had to accept a little less than he had originally planned.
Another problem came when the Calcutta Improvement Trust wanted to take some of the land set aside for the school for the Central Avenue ( now Chittaranjan Avenue) which was being built a that time. Here too, a battle royal ensued and was won by the doctors. It is unimaginable nowadays that doctors managed to come of victorious in a tussle with the ICS officers. I will not bore you with a detailed history of all these sordid maneuverings, but finally the present buildings came up and became in time the finest institution of Tropical Medicine in the world, a status it enjoyed until well into the sixties before our socialist pals got into the act.
Unfortunately for Sir Leonard, he could not be present when his baby was finally born in 1921; he had to leave India in 1920 because of deteriorating health. However there could not have been too much the matter with his health because he lived to ripe old age of 94, after holding many important positions, including the post of the Medical Adviser to the Secretary of State of India. He also published an autobiography in 1950 called "Happy Toil: fifty five years of Tropical Medicine" where in keeping with medical tradition he forgot to name Dr Alfred though he did mention his letter.
Indians took a very important part in this project too. The most important person in this regard was Dr Koilash Nath Bose (1850-1927) who was a Medical College graduate. He was a personal friend of Sir Leonard and a very prominent figure in the medical establishment of those days. He was active in the municipal council and spent much time (22 years) and labour in improving the public health facilities of those days. He became an honorary Physician at the Medical College in 1923, a signal honour at a time when all the posts in the College were reserved for IMS officers. He raised a large sum of money for the School, mainly from Marwari traders who were his patients as well as from the educated Indians who were also very supportive to this venture. Incidentally, Dr Bose was the founder of the Calcutta Medical Club, which still stands opposite the Medical College. It had a superb library which housed many of the then difficult to find old journals, even when I was doing my post graduation. I do not know whether it still exists. However, that is besides the point, but what is relevant is that Dr Bose represented the Indian Medical Establishment which was keen for such an Institution to come up and this paid off because many Indians made seminal contributions to the field of Tropical Medicine while working in this Institution.
(A small gastronomic footnote: in the seventies and eighties the ground Floor of the School housed the Mashima’s canteen which served the best food in the area to starved students. Does it still exist?)
The picture is of Sir Leonard Rogers