Every year we celebrate National Doctor’s Day on July 1, in memory of our second Chief Minister, Dr Bidhan Chandra Roy who was also a physician par excellence. The visionary, aptly hailed as the Maker of Modern West Bengal had, among other things, laid the foundation of our transport network system.
Dr Roy wore many hats with aplomb. He was an academician, a freedom fighter, a social worker, a philanthropist but above all had genuine concern for the common man. He had acquired almost legendary stature as a physician who could diagnose a disease even from a distance. But not many people are aware that Dr Roy had taken to driving a taxi and also worked as a male nurse prior to his visit to England to appear for Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP) and Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons (FRCS) examinations. The renowned physician took up these vocations not to earn money but in order to learn more about the diseases afflicting the common people. He believed people afflicted by various diseases gave out specific odours which could be detected in order to diagnose that particular affliction. Since a wide cross-section of people availed his cab every day he could study the odours they would give off unknowingly. In fact it allowed him to sharpen his intuition to a great extent and it was later said that he would correctly diagnose a patient’s affliction even before entering the room or after examining him for a minute or two. Even while teaching at Carmichael Medical College ( RG Kar Medical College and Hospital) as a Professor of medicine he stressed on the olfactory perception for diagnosis of diseases such as chicken or small pox, diarrhoea, cholera or even sinusitis.
Marxist leader Jyoti Basu who was the Leader of the Opposition while Dr Roy was the Chief Minister often recollected how the legendary doctor had treated him once. On his right wrist, there was a small growth and he had covered his wrist with a bandage. It could not escape the sharp eyes of Dr Roy, who at once called him in his official chamber in the Assembly house and smelt his right arm. Then he removed the bandage and wrote down a prescription in the long hand. When the prescription was presented to a chemist shop it was returned saying that the doctor had prescribed application of the water of a green coconut. Weeks later, the growth subsided, miraculously.
As a Chief Minister who regenerated a partitioned-off Bengal, afflicted by migration from East Pakistan in waves, unemployment and hit by inadequate food supplies founded many institutions for the betterment of the poor and afflicted. He founded Calcutta State Transport Corporation where unemployed youth could be recruited as drivers and conductors.
Incidentally, Dr Roy was instrumental in introduction of mini taxis in India at a time when huge cars like Chevrolet, Pontiac, Dodge and De Sotto were used as taxis, even after independence. Inspiring many unemployed youths to take up taxi driving he facilitated vehicles at subsidised rate and Fiat, Land Master, Standard 10 and Stand Vanguard taxis were introduced on city roads. Till 2008, Mr Bikas Basu, used to drive a Standard 10 taxi which his father had got from Dr Roy in 1957.
Mr Sunil Pal, another such unemployed youth went on to become the owner of 27 taxis. I was travelling in his taxi when a photograph of Dr Roy on the dashboard attracted my attention. Mr Pal, a graduate from Scottish Church College in late 1950s failed to get a job of school teacher. He and some of the other youths then approached Kalipada Mukherjee, the then state Home Minister. He took them to Dr Roy’s chamber who told them point blank that it was not possible for him to get them jobs they aspired for. But he would help them provided they were ready to be self-employed.
When they agreed he asked them to learn driving and meet him after two months. When the youths met Dr Roy again he got them Fiat taxis on monthly installments. “How can I forget him?” said the elderly Mr Pal. Even at that age he continued to drive his new Ambassador taxi for three hours in the morning.
Dr Roy loved cars and commuted to Writers’ Buildings in his black Buick Super 8. He loved American cars because they provide adequate legroom for even those with above average height. But he often suggested to his students that they should opt for Fiat as it was a small car and manufactured in India. Replacing the old double decker buses, Dr Roy had also introduced ordinary buses with Ashok Leyland engine. He not only asked unemployed youths to enter the transport sector which was till then mainly controlled by the Punjabis but also allotted Hindustan Motors huge tracts of land in the state to set up their Uttarpara unit for manufacturing Ambassadors – which incidentally was voted as the best taxi in the world, recently.