Gandhi Jayanti 2019: Pune's Sassoon Hospital recalls surgery Mahatma underwent amid political unrest in 1924

Ninety-five years on, the operation theatre at the government-run hospital has turned into a memorial but one that is not open to the public

Press Trust of India October 02, 2019 08:23:16 IST
Gandhi Jayanti 2019: Pune's Sassoon Hospital recalls surgery Mahatma underwent amid political unrest in 1924
  • It was a stormy day in 1924 when Gandhi had to be operated for appendicitis in Pune's Sassoon Hospital

  • Ninety-five years on, the operation theatre at the government-run hospital has turned into a memorial but one that is not open to the public

  • The room has, among things, a table, a trolley and some instruments used for Gandhi's surgery, said Dr Ajay Chandanwale

Pune: The corridors of the Sassoon Hospital are abuzz with activity as patients come in and doctors and other staff members go about their work. Amid the bustle, a little-known anecdote about Mahatma Gandhi remains locked in a 400 square foot room.

Gandhi Jayanti 2019 Punes Sassoon Hospital recalls surgery Mahatma underwent amid political unrest in 1924

File image of Sassoon Hospital and BJ Medical College. Wikimedia Commons

It was a stormy day in 1924 when Gandhi had to be operated for appendicitis, a procedure that saw power supply cut off due to a raging thunderstorm, a flashlight that went out and finally a hurricane lamp that came to the rescue. 95 years on, the operation theatre at the government-run hospital has turned into a memorial but one that is not open to the public.

The room has, among things, a table, a trolley and some instruments used for Gandhi's surgery, said Dr Ajay Chandanwale, dean of the Sassoon General Hospital and BJ Medical College. It also houses a rare painting depicting Gandhi being operated on.

Every year on 2 October, Gandhi's birth anniversary, the hospital staff offer flowers and garlands are offered at the operation theatre-turned-memorial, Chandanwale said. This year, 150 years since his birth, will be no different. The hospital has planned a series of events like essay writing and elocution competitions and a book exhibition on him.

American journalist Louis Fischer offers a detailed account of the surgery in his book, "Mahatma Gandhi – His Life & Times." On 18 March 1922, Gandhi, who led the country's successful freedom struggle, was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

Two days later, he was shifted from Sabarmati jail in Gujarat to Pune's Yerwada jail by a special train. According to Fischer's book, Gandhi was taken to Sassoon Hospital from Yerwada jail on 12 January 1924, after he developed acute appendicitis.

The government was ready to wait for Indian doctors to arrive from Mumbai. But just before midnight, British surgeon Colonel Maddock informed Gandhi that he would have to operate immediately and the latter consented.

While the operation theatre was being readied for the surgery, VS Srinivasa Sastri, head of the Servants of India Society, and Dr Phatak, Gandhi's friend, were summoned at his request. Together, they drafted a public statement, which said Gandhi had agreed for the operation, the doctors had treated him well and there must be no anti-government agitation no matter what happens.

The hospital authorities and Gandhi knew that if the operation didn't go well, India might burst into flames. When the declaration was ready, Gandhi drew up his knees and signed it in pencil, Fischer notes in his book.

"See how my hand trembles," he said to Colonel Maddock, laughing. "You will have to put this right," he said. To this Colonel Maddock replied, "We will put tons and tons of strength into it." Subsequently, chloroform was administered to Gandhi.

During the operation, the power supply was cut off by a thunderstorm raging outside. Then, a flashlight, which was being held up by one of the three nurses in the operation theatre, went out.
The operation was completed in the light of a hurricane lamp.

Gandhi profusely thanked Colonel Maddock after the successful surgery. On 5 February 1924, the government remitted Gandhi's remaining sentence and released him unconditionally.

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