Chennai – The Birth Place of Geriatrics
The Story of a Banyan Tree
April 26, 1978, was a momentous day, for, the seed of the Banyan tree, ‘Geriatrics” was sown in the Government General Hospital, Chennai, as a out-patient service . Late Dr. Al. Annamalai, who selected Dr. V.S. Natarajan to undergo training in geriatrics in the United Kingdom, initiated it.
Professor M.R.P. Hall was kind enough to train Dr. Natarajan for four years, from 1974 to 1978 at the Geriatric Unit, Southampton General Hospital, United Kingdom. The seed started sprouting with the guidance of Prof. S. Balakrishnan, retired Prof. of Medicine, Chennai Medical College. Dr. Natarajan vouched for the growth and development of the plant and dedicated himself to the cause.
In spite of all the hardships, nature (well-wishers) was conducive to the growth of the plant. By the year 1988, the plant had grown into a tree by establishing itself as a complete Geriatric Unit, with out-patient and in-patient services. This type of tree (Geriatric Unit) is the first and only one of its kind in India.
Needy elderly began to take shelter under the shade of this Banyan tree, and enjoyed its full benefits. Apart from health care, it conducts rural health camps to enlighten them. In India, more than 2/3rds of the elders are in the rural areas. So the Banyan tree extended its service to the rural elderly by starting a Rural Geriatric Centre at Melmaruvathur which is 91 kms from Chennai.
The roots of the Banyan tree were strengthened by the research work conducted with the help of Sandoz Foundation for Gerontological Research, Australia; Roussel Scientific Institute, Bombay; University Grant Commission & Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi, and more than 50 scientific papers on Geriatrics have been published in both Indian and foreign medical journals.
Further, stability of the tree was confirmed by starting M.D. Geriatrics, in the year 1996. The Banyan tree further spread its branches with its social activities, which include conducting preretirement counselling courses, training programmes for social care personnel, geriatric nurses-aide training and voluntary support programmes for the aged. It extends care for the elderly by organising programmes in association with voluntary organisations like Helpage India and Centre for the Welfare of the Aged.
The elders under the shade of the Banyan tree are honoured every year on October 1. The day has been declared as Elders Day since 1991. The Banyan tree is further nourished by the Rajasthan Youth Association with Medibank scheme, which helps needy inpatients to get free medicines and life saving drugs. The tree has begun to branch into other parts of the country and the world.
With Dr. Natarajan’s receiving the Dr. B.C. Roy National Award in 1994 from the President of India, the tree has acquired honour for its outstanding and selfless service. But the best of honour was the 50th anniversary medal that was awarded to Dr. V.S. Natarajan by the British Geriatric Society, at London in 1997, for his outstanding services in Geriatrics.
At present the Banyan tree is well nourished under the supervision of Dr.B.Krishnaswamy, Professor and Head of the Deparment of Geriatric Medicine, Government General Hospital, Chennai. Now the unit has expanded to 60 beds with attached Intensive Care Unit. This Unit in association with National (U.G.C. & I.C.M.R.) and International (W.H.O.) conducts many research works which will help to strengthen the Banyan tree.
Thus the seed which was sown nearly three decades ago, has grown up into a huge tree and with its deep roots, The tree has come to life with the support of thousands of elders who have benefited from its shade. The elderly can now rest in peace because there will no longer be any feeling of loneliness, depression, fear of being ignored or rejected, and no health problems will go neglected, because the Banyan tree is out there to give comfort to the needy elders.
The Banyan tree stands to protect one and all. Let us nourish it further and pray for its prosperity because its service is essential for all elders, of the present and future.