If you help an old lady cross the street, that is social work

Capt. Prof. Dr. BalaramBiswakumar, served the Indian Army as an Emergency Commissioned Officer in the Army Medical Corps from 1963 to 1967 and was honourably discharged with the rank of Captain. He saw active service in Jammu and Kashmir and the Indo – Pakistan War, in recognition of which he was awarded the J & K Service Medal as well as the 1965 War Medal.
In 2010, he was awarded the Degree of D.Sc. (Doctor of Science HonorisCausa) at the 20th annual convocation of the Tamil Nadu Dr. M. G. R. Medical University in 2010. D.Sc. (HonorisCausa) is awarded in recognition of the scientific, academic, and social contributions of an eminent person and is the highest Degree conferred by the University.
Dr. Biswakumar is an active member in many professional bodies like the Indian Medical Association and Neurological Society of India. He is the Grand Master of the Freemasons of India and has been the first doctor to get this post. He also served as President for Rotary Club of Madras in 1995-1996.
Dr. Biswakumar has received many awards for his service and has been organizing many free health care camps for children and senior citizens in and around Chennai.
Dr. BalaramBiswakumar shares with Marie Banu and Latha Suresh his experience in the army and his passion for social causes.
Can you share your experience serving in the Indian Army?
My career in the army started after I passed my MBBS in December 1962. It was the time when Chinese invaded the Indian Territory and we were totally overpowered in all sectors. One of the Generals came to our college and addressed us. He said that the army needed a lot of people, especially doctors. I had just passed my MBBS and had not even finished my internship. I felt that I had to do something, and so I joined the Indian Army in May 1963.
I was one of the early people who joined the emergency commission and was inducted as an Emergency Commissioned Officer. For one year, I served as a Peace-time Medical Officer in Military Hospital, Pathankot, which was the last railway station before Jammu and Kashmir. It was here I completed my internship. After that, I was sent to one of the artillery regiments to serve as a Regimental Medical Officer. My regiment was an artillery unit where they worked with 25 pounder guns that can shoot at a long range into the enemy territory. I had to look after the health of the jawans and the officers here.
It was a very rewarding experience in the sense that it makes you a disciplined person. One gets to learn manpower management, leadership qualities, and many things about administration. You are the confidante of the Commanding Officer and treated at the level of a ‘couple of steps below God’ by the jawans! That situation taught a lot of things to me, more importantly humbling me and to develop endearing qualities despite a fierce-looking moustache!
I had the opportunity to serve in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war in which my regiment took place. Those of us who were in the fore-front were given the Army Medal, and that is how I got that.
When you were honorably discharged from the army, were you willing to come back?
Yes, even though it is a very satisfying life for a young unmarried man to be exploring, climbing mountains, and doing only preventive doctoring. There was very little doctoring to do except treating the Kashmiri civilians which was not satisfying for me.
As a student I had never failed in any subject, hence I wanted to come back and do my post-graduation. The army did not relieve me after three and a half years, and so I remained for one more year.
How did the passion to engage in social service set in? Was it because you were in the army?
The idea of becoming a doctor set in when I was 6. My family doctor was my role model. I would compare him to the doctor in Cronin’s novel ‘The Citadel’, who was compassion personified. He was always for service to the people and cared little for money. I wanted to be someone like him and this naturally kindled in me to do something for the people.
Going up in the social ladder, life gave me plenty of opportunities to join organizations. It is very difficult to do charity by yourself. You need likeminded people to carry your ideas forward and execute them, and an organization can do a lot more. That is how I was moulded into doing things and my innate desire got fructified when I got associated with the Rotary and Freemasons.
Other than health, which other issues are you passionate about?
In the more recent times, in the last one year particularly, I have come to witness the abject poverty of people in our country and the miserable state of living they are in. I had the opportunity to visit the tribal areas all over the country. A dream came to me that I must do something for the people living in these areas, and I named that dream ‘Jyotirgamaya’—meaning leading from darkness to light. We planned to electrify these villages using solar lights. To our horror, we found in certain hamlets that people have not seen an electric bulb. They were managing the entire family with just one kerosene chimney. We, the Freemasons of this country have provided lights in their homes through solar power and have literally led them from darkness to light.
The satisfaction it gave me to light up their homes is something that cannot be measured.
You have been the personal doctor for KanchiParamacharya. Can you share your learning?
Looking at him bless people and listening to the advice that he gave to those who came to him with various problems naturally gave me a lot of wisdom. Wisdom you absorb; when you don’t even talk to him. Just looking at him was enough and that was an experience in my life which has moulded me in a very big way. I learnt what compassion and wisdom was. When people were longing to get a glimpse of him I had the unique privilege to touch and feel the God-who-walked-the-earth.
Can you tell us the charities you are associated with?
I am Chairman for five Trusts. I have instituted one Trust in memory of my late wife called Dr (Mrs.) Indira Biswakumar Memorial Charitable Trust through which we support the needy people—oppressed women, destitute women and children, and visually impaired persons.
I am also the Chairman of Sri KanchiParamaguru Medical Trust. Paramacharya ordered me to look after the health of the old people who were residing at the old age homes in Kalavai and Srikalahasti. For the past 25 years, I am regularly taking a team of doctors and volunteers and attending to the health needs of those living in the old age homes here. This project was initially started by my good friend Late Dr.N. Mathrubootham.
Who do you think is a social worker?
For me, someone who doesn’t want to be called a social worker, but instead thinks that he is repaying to the society what he has drawn from them in a big way—is a Social Worker! When you grow higher in status—whether they are titles or monetary position or influence in the society—the more you have to give back to the society, because that is where it all came from. In fact, everyone should be a social worker. If you help an old lady cross the street, that is social work; If you lend your shoulder to a person who is in distress to cry, that is charity.