Mangaluru: Face to face with Dr Arunachalam Kumar

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Mangaluru: An interaction with Dr Arunachalam Kumar, formerly professor of anatomy at Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore, Dean of KSHEMA, now professor at Kanachur Medical College a distinguished anatomy teacher and a well known outspoken thinker had been arranged at Besant College, M.G.Road Mangaluru on the 1st of August to give an opportunity to his students, friends, members of the public and the press to interact with him about his views on various aspects of life and his experiences. This interaction was arranged by the Dakshina Kannada Rationalist association of which he has been a founder member. He has been diagnosed with cancer of the lung with a not very favorable prognosis.

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Dr Arunachalam Kumar had expressed a wish to meet people to put forth his views on any subject the public may be interested, this meeting had been arranged. After a brief introduction from Narendra Nayak the president of Federation of Indian Rationalist association, he spoke at length on his association with the rationalist movement and about the first meeting of Dakshina Kannada Rationalist association at the Don bosco hall at Mangalore in 1976. That was during the days of the infamous emergency when meetings of more than five people were not allowed. We had a tough time in convincing the police for permission, the owners of the hall who had given it on rent had second thoughts about the same and had wanted to withdraw the permission- and it was one owned by the Capuchin priests! He recalled how they wanted the program to be cancelled and they sat in the front row listening to the eminent rationalist Abraham Kovoor who had been invited to Mangalore for the first time and the last time too! He spoke about his development as a rationalist came about because of his mother who he said had a rational streak in her. He recalled as to how she would go to temples not to worship the gods therein but to give alms to the beggars. At the same time she would not allow a lower caste maid to enter the kitchen! He also mentioned that despite her liberal views how she classified people into Brahmins and Shudras- according her anyone who was not a Brahmin was a shudra! He mentioned about his childhood days which started the process of questioning the norms of the society. He also recalled incidents from his career as a medical student and how his long hair had brought trouble to him as a student. Going back to those days he recalled how he was soundly ticked off by his surgery professor Dr C R Ballal for cutting the finger of his glove two times, trying to help him with surgery! Incidentally Dr C R Ballal was in the audience and laughed at this incident. He also recalled incidents from his student days when some of the professors had sworn not to pass him till he had his hair cut and how he had resisted those attempts! In fact he jocularly mentioned that the main aim of those treating him for cancer was to see that his hair fell off and they had not succeeded to date.

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He expressed his gratitude towards his students who had stood by him during times of crisis and recalled that even one who was no more had instructed his sister in Canada to remit a certain amount to his account as he had been sure that he would not have any financial resources after retirement from service! His students had undertaken a drive to collect funds for his treatment and it had grown to a substantial sum and keeps growing. He recalled instances of how rational thinking had made him undertake research into various topics and had stood him in good stead throughout his life. But, he said that his role in the movement was limited to occasional talks. However he expressed his appreciation for those working for the taking the movement to the people to make them think and question.

The major part of the deliberations was replies to queries posed by the audience. Reacting to a question posed about lack of religion leading to immorality he said as to what was the need for secular laws if religions could make people be moral. He said that humanism was the ultimate and if one could be a good human being it could solve most of the problems. He stated that he had no objections to studies about religion. It was the practice that was causing harm to the society. Replying to another query about psychotherapy he retorted that he was not getting any and did not feel a need for the same. Recalling some bitter incidents of his life, despite of all the suffering he said that he bore no ill will to anyone including those who had betrayed his faith in them. About the power of prayer he remarked that there were people praying for him despite his lack of belief in it! However he did not dismiss the role of the mind in combating the symptoms of diseases. Dr Ballal who was in the audience recalled as to how his reassurance, to one of his patients in terminal stages of cancer helped her to get sound sleep for a month despite of the worsening of her condition.

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The audience which consisted of his teacher, Students, colleagues of the faculty as well as the rationalist movement had an enlightening experience with a person who was frank in his views, forthright in his reactions and firm in his convictions. Devanand Pai the member of the board of trustees of the college and Dr Sudha the principal were present and were thanked for kindly allowing the use of their premises for the interaction.

Narendra Nayak
President ,Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations

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  1. First of all, I wish him a full recovery against all odds. Just curious – Did you guys record (audio or video) this event? If so, could you guys please upload it to internet?

    Questioning religious beliefs and claims on morality are very important to spread humanist, progressive ideas in our society. I’m glad to see that the Rationalist Association is well and thriving in Mangaluru since 1976!! Nobody has charged this group for blasphemy!! smiles… This still gives me a hope that India will not turn into another member of tribal belt where any form of religious or intellectual dissent is met with capital punishment!!

  2. I have seen the video of Prof Arunachalam Kumar drawing with both hands at the same time. He is ambi dextrous. I hope he will respond to the treatments. Non small cell carcinoma of lung [NSCCL] treatment has come a long way now and molecular target therapy has helped many to achieve better quality of life and better survival. His medical oncologist will be able to discuss and offer those options. I trust he has already discussed those options and has his management optimised. Good luck Prof.

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