Some years ago, I developed a sharp and persistent pain in my knee and consulted Dr Tapan Kumar Banerjee (in photo)(Tapan or TK to his many friends) at his chamber in the Speciality Clinic at the Calcutta Medical Research Institute. He asked me to get a knee x-ray done.
When I inquired if an MRI wouldn’t be better, he chuckled and retorted, “Only if you want to waste your money. This is a simple joint and an X-ray will tell me what I want to know.”
When I returned the next day with the X-ray, he took a quick look to confirm what he had already diagnosed was the problem.
He explained that a part of the cartilage had worn away, showed me the gap in the joint and asked if I wanted to consult an orthopaedics specialist.
My faith in Tapan is blind and has been in the several decades we have been friends; I said I would do whatever he felt was right. With a twinkle in his eye, he said, “If you go to an orthopaedics specialist, you are probably going to get a new knee. But if you can handle the pain for a few days with the analgesics I give you, I will prescribe an over-the-counter medication used by sportsmen that might help restore the health of the cartilage.”
That was more than a decade ago, my pain went away in a few days and the knee hasn’t given me a day’s bother since. Tapan was among the last of a dying breed in this world of super-specialisations, an old-school physician who trusted his vast experience of medicine and his immense diagnostic skills to offer sound and sensible advice to his patients.
Little wonder that regulars would travel hundreds of miles to see him, if for nothing else than, as he would laughingly say, to find a cure for their hypochondria. Staff at the clinics where I would meet him, sometimes for no reason other than the “adda” he so loved, knew me as his younger brother, for that is how he had introduced me to all of them.
Indeed, one lab technician while feeding my details into the computer for a test had once turned to me and asked, “You don’t write Banerjee, sir?” and I had responded quite simply by saying I did not, letting her believe it was an affectation.
When I was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003, a year of immense personal stress, it was Tapan who taught me how to live without letting the condition affect my lifestyle.
Seeing me demur a couple of times when offered a drink or a dessert, he sat me down and explained how I could live with the disease and even occasionally indulge, as long as I learnt how to balance my diet, avoid excess and manage stress.
Tapan was an active member of several clubs, having been president of the Bengal Club and a member of long standing of Calcutta Club and Tollygunge Club. But meeting him socially at any of these clubs meant having to deal with several distractions, as waiters and other staff would often interrupt to consult him with a medical problem.
Never once did I see him turn anyone down, and never once did I see his “patient” go away without a smile on his face.
Tapan, his gracious wife, Binita, and their two sons, Arnab and Arpan were the first friends my wife and I made in Kolkata when we moved to the city, and scarcely a week went by without our meeting socially, more so after the two boys grew up and moved overseas.
On the last occasion we met, on the eve of the lockdown, at his home in south Kolkata, he was his usual, charming self. It now seems unreal to think I will not see him again. Physician, adviser, brother and friend, rest in peace.