The pandemic in which the world is embroiled today, has gripped common people with confusion due to poor information causing fear and panic. In India, this week started with 113 deaths being recorded in just one district- Nagpur, making it the district with the highest mortality. Nagpur witnessed an increase of 28 deaths in 24 hours. The district recorded 6,364 new cases on the day taking the total number of positive cases in the district to 3,29,470. With such scenario the COVID-19 pandemic in Nagpur seemingly has entered the “community spread”. Through the week, the situation seems to have worsened. More than 7229 cases were detected between 20-21 April, 2021 and 98 lives were lost to COVID-19, of which 52 were from the City. More than 7000 recovered bringing the number of total active cases at 71557 and recovery rate to 77.30 percent.
As the city, like the rest of the country grapples with the challenges thrown up by the pandemic, there have been some selfless ‘warriors’ dedicated to the cause of ensuing care and compassion to the infected persons. Once such is Dr KM Kamble who superannuated from Nagpur Medical College after illustrious and dedicated service in training young aspiring doctors. A teacher in true sense of the word, known for his sensitivity towards social inequalities, he ensured viable environment in the classrooms, to enable assimilation of students from socially under privileged backgrounds. He was perceptive of the different potentials with which students from different social backgrounds entered the Medical schools. Alienation experienced by students coming from marginalised groups was keenly observed by him and addressed too. He often transformed into a counsellor for distressed students helping them assimilate themselves into the system with confidence. He mentored them to become dexterous medical professionals. Even in the testing times of COVID-19 he continued his crusade to provide care to the sick and save their lives along with his compatriots. As the state contemplates building a jumbo hospital with 1000 oxygenated beds in Lloyds Steel Campus in Wardha City about 76 kms from Nagpur, Dr Kamble seamlessly worked among the infected person- offering them care and comfort in his usual affable manner. Someone who was fearlessly fighting the pandemic ensuring care for the others, contracted the infection in the process! And succumbed to it – a couple of days after the birth anniversary of the persona whose path he followed to bring about social justice and equality. In his passing away, one whole generation of young enthusiasts eager to take forward the mission of Dr Ambedkar, have been orphaned.
His passion for his profession was infectious. All those who came in contact with him, emulated him in more than one way. His empathy, perseverance and positive attitude rubbed off on to all. He convinced the others for the need to be compassionate. It was for this reason that he engaged with community service as much as he was involved with the medical academia. As an erudite scholar and practitioner of oncological sciences, he remains one among the very few in the country, and most certainly the only one from among the under privileged communities. His students, irrespective of their social background, vouch for his scholarship, and his patients have no words to express their gratitude towards him and his caring attitude. The many accolades which he has received are the testimony of his academic and professional excellence.
Born on 26 Nov, the Constitution day, he was an ardent follower of Dr BR Ambedkar in his thoughts and deeds. Even as he lay in the hospital ICU after getting infected with COVID-19, he remained positive and optimistic about getting cured and returning to carry on his crusade- the short term, against the virus and the long term against social inequality. The latter began decades earlier, perhaps when he was still a students and connected with Dr Bhagwan Das, a well known Amdekarite. It has been in that zeal that he has remained active in the Ambedkarite Movement ever since. He was pivotal in organising the 125 birth Centenary celebration of Dr BR Ambedkar in Deekshabhoomi, Nagpur, as he would do every year under the aegis of voluntary associations with which he had been closely associated. His zest to publish and reprint Ambedkar’s writings, mounting a library, and disseminating his ideas has been paramount. Building a hospice dedicated to the underprivileged has been the dream project he was working on. He donated his pension for the cause of humanity in these times when most of us are busy looking for options to multiply our money in whichever way possible.
His social work was not restricted to the underprivileged lot. His humanitarian ideals are well demonstrated in the organ donation of his beloved wife upon her death due to cancer. Paradoxically enough, oncology was his area of practicing and teaching medicine!. How helpless he must have felt to bid her farewell! While he saved hundred and treated thousands, yet was unable to pin down the aggressive progression of the disease, despite all possible efforts to save someone who had stayed with him like a shadow for many decades- in rain and in sunshine.
Prof Kamble, remained a public health practitioner of a different kind. He ensured that the system was triggered to perform the required services. Introducing some specialisations in the medical college where he taught, could be realised due to his tireless efforts in convincing the Ministry. He was fully aware of the social determinants of health and practised medicine judiciously. He transcended between medical sciences and social sciences with equal ease. His efforts brought the nuances of medical care and social issues in complete symbiosis. His constant efforts towards addressing social inequality was evident in his efforts to reach out to the people in the community, giving them free medical aid.
His quest for knowledge was voracious. Perhaps this was the trigger for him to study Pali and enrol in Buddhist Studies Programme of the Rashtrasant Tukadoji Maharaj Nagpur University for the post graduate studies and subsequently for the doctoral research programme. He took great interest in social science research too. He was a catalyst in my transition into a researcher on the issues of sanitation workers. His academic inputs connected me with the social realities of the population I was interested in studying. He encouraged me to share my research on the sanitation workers with the medical fraternity. As a public health practitioner, he recognised it as an area which connected social sciences with medical, engineering and architectural sciences. I learnt a lot from him in sporadic contacts that I had with him on various occasions. I am fortunate to have spent some very precious moments with him which influenced and enriched my thinking. He had no qualms in taking time off to visit and call on younger colleagues and acquaintances, to enquire about their wellbeing and encourage them. His zeal and passion to work for people undeterred, makes it difficult to resist borrowing from Robert Frost to describe him as not only ‘… a teacher, but … an awakener…’!!
Prof Kamble will always remain with us through his immense work as a medical professional and public health practitioners as much as a wonderful human being who truly imbibed and professed Dr Ambedkar’s ideas. Many like me will remain indebted to him for his selfless guidance and affectionate interaction. He renounced the worldly abode a little too early bringing alive the very words of Dr Ambedkar- ‘Life should be great rather than long!’
About the author- Professor in the Centre of Social Medicine and Community health, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi