Saturday, 26 September 2015

Remembering the Plague-hit Kovai's Angel of Mercy

A file photo of Mercy Paul, the first woman doctor of Coimbatore, with her daughter Primela Mary and grand children

Sadagopachari, a son of an orthodox Jeeyar ( A preacher of Vaishnavism) of Tirunelveli, one day, became Arthur Paul!. Had the man, who pursued education in the famed St. Joseph's College, Trichy in the 19th century, not embraced Christianity, Coimbatore could not have seen its first woman doctor Mercy Paul, who was none other than his daughter.

Because, in the orthodox Hindu society, girls had little opportunity to pursue even formal school education. My grandfather Sadagopachari was even driven out of home after he embraced Christianity ” recalls 70 year old Primela Mary, a retired physics teacher from G.R.G.Matriculation Hr.Sec.School and the daughter of Coimbatore's first woman doctor. Primela Mary was also a recipient of Dr. Radhakrishnan state award for the best teacher.

Mercy Paul, who was born in 1905, came to Coimbatore around 1929 as an L.M.P ( Licentiate Medical Practitioner, since there was no M.B.B.S then).

Fondly called as 'Paul Doctoramma' by the then Coimbatoreans, Mercy Paul pursued her education in the Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore, under its founder Dr. Ida.S. Scudder, an American medical missionary-turned physician, who championed the cause of women by founding the exclusive medical school for girls.

Reminding Portia's quote The quality of mercy is not strained ... from William Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice, Mercy's love for mankind made her serve and save the people from plague when the city witnessed the outbreak of the deadly disease.

Nonetheless, the physician, who saved hundreds of human lives from the jaws of death, could not get a chance even to pay the last rites to her father Arthur Paul when he passed away in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, as there was little transport facility in the past.

An inconsolable woman, when she later decided to leave Coimbatore, it was Diwan Bahadur C.S. Rathina Sabhapathy Mudaliar, the municipal chairman of Coimbatore, advised her to continue her service here” recalls Primela.

In contrast to the modern age, where most corporate hospitals cheat and fleece patients, Paul doctoramma was devoted to serve people and demanded no fees from them.

I remember an occasion when some parents rushed their child to our home, saying that it had swallowed a coin. However, within a few minutes I could see them shed tears of joy and look up to my mother after she removed the foreign object from the little one's stomach. Though my mother served in the municipal hospitals of Coimbatore, which were called Solakada Mukku Aaspathiri and Devangapettai Aaspathiri, she never loved a luxurious life. She felt no dissimilarities, when the rich, seeking her medical service, took her to their posh bungalows in cars and the poor to their huts on bullock carts “ Primela reminisces. 

Source: Ida Scudder, the Angel of Mercy – By Primela Mary  

Link to my article in The New Indian Express

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