It was a couple of weeks after the rest of the batch had started, and an hour into the Monday that a lean and fair boy was led into Room No. 433, and we were told that Roll No 60 had been allotted now. We were further told that he was the Government of India nominee and had come down from Delhi, and his name was Pradeep Kumar. That was our first glimpse of a mate who was to become the thread that held the batch together in the years to com. Little did we know it then.
Lodged in the "D" Block, his preference for Hindi and his gregarious nature soon earned him the sobriquet by which he will always be known best in St. John's and by Johnnites - PUNJABI. To some, he would be Pappe (he preferred the former, but couldn't shake off the latter!). With great elan, he set about befriending everybody on the then fledgling campus and soon became the best-recognised of his batchmates. He was also unanimously chosen the "Class Representative" for all time to come.
He played cricket for class and college, but his expeditions with the more enterprising of his classmates were stuff of St. John's folklore. He revelled in the choice of cuisine and adventure that Bangalore offered in the '70s and befriended several families outside the campus. He came to know them, and their relatives and friends in addition. They all held him in great esteem. Being large-hearted, he freely used these contacts to help anybody in need.
As most of his batchmates fretted, sweated and laboured through the MBBS course, Pradeep seemed to wade through with with ease - filling everyone with envy. His midnight oil rarely ran out, and the Sun would be bright and shining by the time he was up. Unruffled, he would soothe nerves, becalm panic-stricken mates and gather in information from his BMC contacts that would be useful in the exams. He finished his course on time, having garnered mass, girth and innumerable friends along the way.
Pradeep with wife Prabha
Internship over, he joined the Department of Paediatrics in St. Martha's Hospital as an S.H.O (Senior House Officer). When St. John's started postgraduate courses, he was selected in the first batch for the Diploma in Paediatrics which he duly completed, and returned to Delhi. His heart remained in St. John's and he kept in touch as no one else did.
His professional work in Delhi took him beyond Paediatrics into Intensive Care, and he moved to Sir Gangaram Hospital, Delhi. In course of time, he helped several smaller hospitals develop high-dependency units. He perhaps missed the variety and spice that St. John's had offered him. He sought out causes to support and worked with hospices and voluntary agencies doing varied work - staying networked with St. John's & Johnnites all the while.
Aneesh and Adithaya his sons
For anyone passing through or visiting Delhi, a stopover with him was a must. A most generous host, he would travel down to pick-up friends from wherever they were. He plied them equally with hospitality and news of St. John's & Johnnites in good measure. He tracked marriages, jobs, laurels, bereavements, additions to families and new connections and most selflessly passed them on to everybody. By the time the visitor was deposited in the Railway Station or Bus Stand, the spirits would be soaring, and the heart heavy.
Over the twenty five years that passed after he left Bangalore, he nurtured the batch dream of a jubilee get-together. When it materialised in 2007, it is no exaggeration to say that he played the most important role in garnishing as many numbers as he could. Batchmates and their families travelled across the oceans and continents to spend those 3 days - all because they could not say no to Punjabi, could they? He had been steadfast on the phone, persuading even the most reluctant to join in, and succeeding. Batchmates that met are sure to have bitter-sweet memories of that get-together.
That such a pillar of strength and epitome of kinship should be afflicted with so deadly a illness was shocking. However, he was not one to give up easily. His indomitable spirit saw him through two major surgeries, and several sessions of chemotherapy. To see him, and speak to him, one would think he was thinking of ways to beat a niggling cold and not a mortal disease. His nature remained the same - when visited in his ICU bed after his second surgery, he wanted his wife Prabha to get his visitor some tea! This with an endotracheal tube, and hooked on to a ventilator!
A towering pillar of strength to friends and family, he bowed to a higher power today. His wonderful wife Prabha cared for him as few can. Like her, their two sons and Pradeep's mother have been struck by the greatest tragedy. Everybody whose life Pradeep touched will feel deeply for them.
Our heads bow to his memory. Oh, how we shall miss him !!!