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A lineage of success

S.MUTHIAH

Dr. U. Rama Rau did much more for medicine than only practise it



Numerous contributions Dr. U. Rama Rau

Aravind Adiga’s Man Booker Prize-winning book may have stirred up a hornet’s nest among reviewers and bloggers, but there can be no such debate over the success of his illustrious Madras lineage. In his time and to this day, Adiga’s great-grandfather U. Rama Rau is remembered in the city for the numerous contributions he made to it between the 1890s and his death in 1952. His sons, doctors Krishna Rau and Mohan Rau — the maternal grandfather of Aravind Adiga — followed in his footsteps. And to this day the family’s contribution to Madras medicine continues.

Towering over the Madras medical, political and musical scene for years was Dr. U. Rama Rau. His clinic in Thambu Chetty Street was known far beyond the confines of Black Town that became George Town. But he did much more for medicine than only practise it. He was one of the founders of the Indian Medical Association, the St. John Ambulance Association in Madras, and the Red Cross in South India — and he headed each of them at some time or another. Together with Dr. T.M. Nair, he founded the medical journal Antiseptic, which also strayed into political and social sciences. Antiseptic is still being published, now as the Indian Medical Association’s journal, and comes out from Madurai. He later started another journal, Health.

Dr. Rama Rau’s entry into politics was as a Municipal Councillor. Elected a member of the Madras Legislative Council, he supported Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy in the Anti-Nautch legislation she proposed, but later was one of the most ardent supporters of ‘saving’ Sadir and having it renamed Bharata Natyam. As important as this contribution was his role in establishing the Music Academy. He presided over the All India Music Conference in 1927, which helped launch the Academy in 1928 and he served as its first President, an office he held from 1928 till 1935. He offered his house in Thambu Chetty Street, Gana Mandir, to the Music Academy rent-free to hold its early concerts. When the Academy’s Teachers’ College of Music was established, its first home too was Gana Mandir.

A Congressman all his life, he was nominated to the Council of States in Delhi. Back in Madras, he was elected to the Legislative Council again in 1937, and served as its President till 1943. His involvement with Congress and the Freedom Movement was so great that he started another hospital in 1930, the Congress Hospital. Its chief purpose was to treat those injured in lathi charges during civil disobedience demonstrations!

Dr. Rama Rau’s son Krishna Rau followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a Municipal Councillor, then Mayor of Madras, a member of the Legislative Assembly, Minister of Industry, Labour and Public Transport, and, finally, Speaker of the Assembly. His brother stuck to medicine and the Dr. U. Mohan Rau Hospital still functions on the same premises which was once a Poonamallee High Road landmark, his family continuing the tradition.

Indeed, the family Dr. U. Rama Rau founded has not only continued the medical tradition but has contributed to many other fields in Madras as well over the years. No wonder many in Madras will be quicker to recognise the Rama Rau family than a Booker Prize winner!

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