Reminiscences of Alwar State

Pramod Wanchoo



Dr. Pramod Wanchoo, born 1938, studied in Happy School, Alwar and Royal High School, Edinburgh. He got his medical degrees from SMS Medical College, Jaipur. He retired as the Senior Professor and Head of Department Surgery, SMS Medical College, and then shifted to private practice in Jaipur. He retired in 2012, and shifted to Gurgaon to be near his children. Likes to spend time reading and writing, and is active on Facebook.

Dr M S Katre, Chief Medical Officer, Alwar State

Dr Madhav Sadashiv Katre, was Chief Medical Officer, Alwar State, in 1940, when my father joined as Medical Officer, in charge of Alexandra Hospital Alwar. Father had spent seven years as Captain, Indian Medical Service, in NWFP and Singapore. Father and Dr Katre did not get along particularly well. However, Dr Katre did not interfere with father in the running of Alexandra Hospital.

The reason was that Dr Katre and my father were often not together. In particular, Dr Katre went to the Vijay Mandir Palace every evening to meet and check-up on Alwar Maharaja Tej Singhji and his family, and spent a couple of hours there. Further, Dr Katre spent 2-3 months in Mount Abu in the summer with the Maharaja. Still, inevitably, Dr Katre rang up father at 9 pm, every day to enquire "Sab theek hai (Is all Ok)?" And the inevitable answer had to be "Sab theek hai (All is Ok)."

But, Dr Katre was extremely kind to me, a schoolboy. He wrote a book on cricket which he got corrected by Holdsworth, a county player in England, who was then a teacher in Doon School, Dehradun. At that time, I was keen on cricket.

In 1949, with the formation of Rajasthan, Dr Katre became Inspector General of Prisons, and later Director Medical and Health Services [DMHS] Rajasthan, and retired in 1952. Father became Chief Medical Officer Alwar in 1949, and DMHS Rajasthan in 1961.

Dr Katre had an only child, a son named Laxman Madhav Katre. He was 10-12 years older than me, and was a student in Doon School. He joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1946, even before Independence, and then had a serious plane crash, with multiple injuries. Father looked after him, as there was no separate Orthopaedic department. When Laxman recovered after six months, my father asked Dr. Katre to remove his son from the airforce as he was his only child. Later, Father used to tell me "Thank God, Katre Sahib didn't listen to my advice." Laxman Madhav Katre went on to become the Chief of the Indian Air Force. He later died in office of a heart attack. He was very handsome and resembled General MacArthur. Once, he came to Jaipur with his entourage, and called upon Father and Mr. C.N. Shivpuri, who was Superintendent Gardens in Alwar

We were in Nainital in 1986, when a message came that Air Chief Marshal Katre would land on the Flats in a helicopter to inaugurate a Sainik school in Nainital. We assembled there. The helicopter came. A beautiful sight, but out stepped Air Chief Marshall [ACM] La Fontaigne, with the message that Air Chief Marshal Katre had died that day in office, of a heart attack. I found Father sobbing - he didn't particularly like Dr Katre but he was sobbing for the son alright. Such were those day - even if you didn't care for the boss, you cared for his family.

Dr N Sivakamu Nilakanta Sastry, in charge of Zenana Hospital, Alwar

I feel like writing nostalgically about the famous gynaecologist of a past era - Dr N Sivakamu, who was in charge of Zenana Hospital (separate hospital for women), Alwar 1943-50. Dr Sivakamu was born in 1895 in Madras and was married at the age of only 7 years. She wanted to study but her in-laws forbade this. She appealed to her parents and elder brother, very progressive theosophists, who supported and encouraged her. She left her husband, and joined Grant Medical College, Bombay, where she topped in MBBS in 1918.

She then came under the influence of Annie Besant and Jiddu Krishnamurthi, who sent her to England. She passed MRCP London, in 1925. She was possibly the first Indian woman doctor to do so. She was trained in Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, then considered the best obstetrical hospital in Europe, obtaining her LM degree there.

She joined Bikaner State as Principal Zenana (Women's) Medical Officer, in January 1929 on a salary of Rs. 1,500 per month, then considered a huge amount of money, plus a free house. She remained there till Bikaner's Maharaja Ganga Singhji died in 1943. She was very much admired by Bikaner's Maharaja and the public, and Bikaner's Zenana Hospital was named after her. Dr Telang, Dr Sharda Rao Dr Chako and others were trained by her in Bikaner - who became famous gynaecologists later in Bikaner and Jaipur

She then came to Alwar in 1943, as in charge of Alwar's Zenana Hospital. She was renowned there. She remained in Alwar till she retired in 1950. She liked my father, who was in charge of the Alexandra Hospital, and he respected her a lot. She was very close to Sir Sirehmal Bapna, the Prime Minister, who had known her from Bikaner, and brought her to Alwar after the demise of Maharaja Ganga Singhji. As a child, I remember her vaguely, but distinctly remember the beautiful government bungalow that she lived in, in solitary splendour.

She stayed briefly in St Francis Hospital in Ajmer in 1950, along with Dr von Allen who knew her from Bikaner. Rukmini Arundale, the famous dancer, was her younger sister. Dr Sivakamu remained very close to Jiddu Krishnamurthi, and helped the theosophist organization in Adyar with munificent donations, all her life. She finally settled down in Adyar, near Madras and died there.

Shobha Ram, Chief Minister

Shobha Ramji Kumawat became Chief Minister in 1948 of Matsya Union, comprising of the Princely States of Alwar, Bharatpur, Dholpur and Karauli before the formation of Rajasthan. Later, he was twice Finance Minister of Rajasthan.

He was my father's intimate friend in Alwar. He appointed Father Chief Medical Officer, Alwar State in 1949. He appointed my father Chief Medical Officer, Alwar state in 1949, in absentia, when father was in Edinburgh. Later, Shobha Ramji helped Father become DMHS Rajasthan in 1961.

Much later, when Shobha Ramji was Finance Minister in Rajasthan for the second time, Father took me to meet him in Jaipur. The simplicity of those times and those people had to be seen to be believed. Shobha Ramji himself brought for us three cups of tea on a tray from the kitchen. This was in his official residence with many chaprasis (servants). He then asked Father to go with him to the Governor's House for tea, as it was 26th January, Republic Day. But, Father refused as he had retired and had no invitation and I, though in service, was too junior to be invited to Raj Bhawan. Shobha Ramji insisted that we should go as his guests, but father refused, whereupon he said that he will also not go. Then I said "Yeh sab kya hai (What's going on)?"

Father kept quiet, but Shobha Ramji said "In Alwar, in 1940, I went to Doctor Sahib for a loan of Rs 1,400 for my sister's wedding, and took a bag containing my wife's jewellery. Doctor Sahib withdrew the money from the Imperial Bank (the only bank in Alwar), and gave it to me. But, he refused to keep my wife's jewellery and asked me to keep accounts. I, according to my legal practice, used to pay him Rs 50 or so every month, till the debt was paid. Such friendships are made for life."

So I said "Rs 1400 mein shadi ho jati thi (A wedding used to costs only Rs. 1,400)?" Shobha Ramji said "Dekh lo (Yes, look yourself.)"

© Pramod Wanchoo 2018


Very interesting. I never heard about these doctors. The old building of Alwar Hospital was known as Alexander Hopial (it is still written on a marble stone). I met Shobha Ramji during my journalism days. He was known as "Rajasthan ki Rajneeti ke Chanakya" ( Chaniya of Rajasthan Politics). And no doubt he was very simple tough very powerful politician.

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