The tale of an unsung doctor

By: M. Sai Gopal

Ratnam Pillai, a Hyderabad-based doctor, worked as medical assistant to Sir Ronald Ross who linked mosquito bite to malaria in 1897

The whole world remembers the contribution of Sir Ronald Ross, the doctor who linked mosquito bite to malaria on August 20, 1897 and won a Nobel Prize for the discovery. A very few, however, know that there was a Hyderabad-based doctor, Ratnam Pillai, who was a medical assistant to Dr. Ross at the military hospital for Indian soldiers in Begumpet during the epochal discovery.

While the contribution of Dr. Pillai was largely left unsung, his grandchildren still cherish his priceless memorabilia, which they could salvage from getting lost in time. Staying in a modest house in West Marredpally, Secunderabad, Dr. Pillai’s grandchildren have been fighting for due recognition to their grandfather’s work for quite some time.

Grandchildren of Ratnam Pillai showing the silver medals and a sword that were awarded to him by the British government

“He did his medicine from Royapuram Medical School in Madras and joined Indian Medical Service as hospital assistant at Military Hospital, Bolaram and later at Begumpet hospital with Dr. Ross. He has served Indian soldiers in the Burmese war and was promoted as Subedar Major,” says his granddaughter, Shela Paupens.

The proud possession for the four grandchildren of Dr. Pillai – Shela, Shirley, Franklin and Samuel – are the medals.

“My grandfather was awarded silver medals by the British Government for his meritorious service. In fact, he also has received an honorary sword for his work. You can clearly see his name written on the edges of these medals,” says a proud Samuel.

‘Contribution has gone unnoticed’

Historians point out that the contribution of Indian soldiers and the doctor in malaria research has largely gone unnoticed.

“The hospital was meant for Indian soldiers, who had malaria and the research was done on them. In fact, Dr. Pillai had played a vital role in malaria research, but his contribution was not acknowledged,” says historian Anuradha Reddy.

Interestingly, a large number of members from Tamil-speaking community had migrated to Secunderabad in the early 1800s after the signing of subsidiary alliance between Nizams and the British. “We believe that Dr. Pillai too migrated from Madras to Secunderabad during this period,” she says.

The family members too lament lack of recognition.

“When he died in 1943, we were told by our relatives that he was draped in the British flag and laid to rest in Bhoiguda cemetery. We have tried to find the grave, but unfortunately could not succeed. All we have are his medals and accounts of his work with Dr. Ross. The government should commemorate Dr. Pillai’s contribution too,” the grandchildren demand.

Source: The Hindu

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