The evening of the 26th of December 2018 would remain etched in the minds of the large number of Sankara Nethralaya family members assembled at the Sri V.D.Swami Auditorium, located at its main campus, a colourful and joyous moment when the legendary ‘Pune Pagdi’ the bright turban which adorned the heads of Lokmanya Balgangadhar Tilak the fiery freedom fighter and Gopal Krishna Gokhale the moderate freedom fighter and social reformer, the bright headgear which had become a proud symbol of India’s nationalism and fight against foreign rule adorned the humble persona of the man who had been fighting all his life for freedom from blindness of his people, leading to a self reliant and independent life. The occasion was the awarding of the first ‘Pune Netra Seva National Award’ instituted in honour and memory of Late G.M Shetty of Modern Cafe, Pune, a philanthropist who supported social causes generously, by the Pune Seva Netra Pratisthan a unique and pioneering service institution engaged in bringing back the light of vision and joy totally cost free to thousands of visually impaired in the rural parts of Maharashtra, for the past 40 years. The award was instituted to recognize and honour an outstanding personality working in the field of ophthalmology, as part of the Pune Seva Netra Pratisthan’s 40th anniversary celebrations and the members of the executive committee of the organization chose Dr SS. Badrinath, Founder & Chairman Emeritus, Sankara Nethralaya unanimously for the same. The fact that the award was being conferred by an institution governed by the same philosophy and values, an institution that has been serving a large number of indigent visually impaired in the backward regions of the country for the same number of years as the institution started by the recipient of the award and the fact that it was being conferred by the first citizen of the state made it a very special award.
Dr. Madhusudhan Jamwar, Founder, President and moving force of the Pune Seva Netra Pratisthan set the tone for the evening with a dash of nostalgia with his fond recollection of meeting the illustrious recipient of the award for the first time, at the All India Ophthalmic Congress (AIOC) at Amritsar in year 1979 when Sankara Nethralaya the institution started by him was a fledgling, one year old, 20 or so bedded hospital. Dr Jamwar’s compliment that no one was more deserving of the award than Dr SS.Badrinath, in view of his pioneering role in alleviating the suffering of the visually impaired both rich and poor, by leveraging a high level of knowledge and infrastructure of his institution was a clear indication that the humanitarian doctor had been a keen observer of his counterpart on the other side of the Vindhyas, who became his mentor and idol in the years that followed. Dr Madhusdhan gave a most absorbing account of how his dream institution the ‘Pune Purva Seva Pratisthan’ operated without a physical address, as an NGO of Doctors that relied on its team of service oriented consultants for the treatment dispensed and the local community for technical and infrastructural support. Dr Jamwar hailed Dr Prema Padmanabhan, among Sankara Nethralaya’s oldest and most versatile and accomplished surgeons being honoured on the occasion, as a most distinguished Cornea and Refractive services Consultant, a humble, soft spoken teacher and guide who has the pride of serving as the Honorary consultant to the President of India.
Responding to the honour a visibly moved Dr Prema Padmanabhan hailed Dr SS.Badrinath as the Patriarch and Matriarch of the institution, she paid rich compliments to the Pune Purva Seva Pratisthan for its 40 years of glorious service to society. Declaring with pride that she had spent 1/3 of her life at Sankara Nethralaya under the mentorship of Dr SS.Badrinath whom she described as a sagacious mentor, chastising father, tender mother and guiding teacher all in one day, she added that he was a man who not only taught his team on how to treat patients but fellow human beings as a whole. The learned Doctor hailed the award recipient as a man who redefined outreach programs beyond boundaries, she expressed amazement on how many of his future plans which had a larger than life canvas and seemed like castles in the air would evolve as real, impactful initiatives with the passage of time, she cited the Mobile Eye Surgical Unit (MESU) and Tele-ophthalmology supported outdoor eye camps as case studies of the same.
Beginning his address in a lighter vein by referring to the man being honoured as a ‘son-in-law’ of Maharashtra, the Chief Guest of the function His Excellency Banwarilal Purohit, the Honourable Governor of Tamil Nadu gave a most detailed account of the services rendered by the honouring organization, the man being honoured and the institution started by him. He cited their service, financial model technology adaption etc. The first citizen of the State appealed to doctors to synergize allopathic treatment with various indigenous forms of treatment like Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha for a holistic approach to treating diseases.
Delivering the acceptance and thanks note on behalf of Dr SS Badrinath, Dr Vasanthi Badrinath, Director, Clinical Services, Sankara Nethralaya thanked Dr Madhusudhan Jamwar and his team for conferring the award and taking the trouble of travelling all the way from Pune to hold the function at Chennai. She expressed deep gratitude to the Governor for gracing the occasion in the midst of his busy schedules and for his kind words. Dr Vasanthi Badrinath used the opportunity to highlight Sankara Nethralaya’s pioneering role in introducing trail blazing concepts and practices in ophthalmology like group practice, treating all sub-specialties of ophthalmology under one roof, teaching and training initiatives, advanced community outreach facilities like the Mobile Eye Surgical Unit, developing ophthalmic technology, Electronic Medical Record, exhaustive ophthalmic research etc. Dr Vasanthi Badrinath expressed deep appreciation for the great work done by the ‘Pune Purva Seva Pratisthan’ towards eliminating blindness among the less fortunate sections of society in rural India and appealed to them to extend their services to places beyond the state of Maharashtra.
Dr Prema Padmanabhan’s description of the lofty ideals and qualities of the man being honoured as the ‘Quintessence of a Karmayogi’ summed up the spirit of the day in a single sentence.