A shrink who expanded your world

Rajnish Wattas

THE iconic Dr Narendra Nath Wig, founder of PGI’s department of psychiatry, was more a genial guru than a forbidding modern medicine shrink. Every Tuesday and Thursday at sharp 9 am, come rain or shine, Dr Saheb would be sitting in a small, dark and damp clinic at Lajpat Rai Bhawan. A large crowd of patients from far and near, poorest of the poor, could get consultancy from a top doctor for free, and in dignity. He would not finish till each anguished soul had been seen patiently.

The 88-year-old sprightly, elegantly dressed doctor had a patrician visage, endowed with keen observation and puckish humour that could erase many a tense brow!

As the founding father of the department of psychiatry, and later its Professor Emeritus, Dr Wig had chosen to become a psychiatrist, in spite of being a qualified MD (medicine), in an era when mental health was stigmatised socially. His astounding professional achievements brought him world fame and honours, including a top WHO position and a Fellowship of the Royal College of Psychiatry, London. But all the awards sat lightly on this wizened grey head, with the soothing touch of a family elder who listened attentively to others’ anguish.

But what perhaps people were less aware of was his encyclopaedic erudition in diverse fields. I first heard him speak at a seminar 40 years ago at the Chandigarh College of Architecture. He was the only non-architect among leading professionals, but interestingly enough, he was the one who got maximum attention and applause with his unique insights interspersed with Urdu couplets and quotes from epics.

His knowledge of birds, trees, stars, cartography and literature was mind-boggling. Years ago when I co-authored a book on trees, he was the first one to buy a copy. Little did I know that later I would be facing many litmus tests of my limited knowledge. ‘What is the name of the tree that is in bloom with pink flowers on street?’ could be a frequent query! Once we went for a walk and the deal was that while I was to identify trees on the way, he would identify the birds.

When my children were small, he and his gracious wife, the late Dr Veena Wig, invited us over. After a round of ice-cream, Dr Wig opened a chest of drawers and pulled out some antique maps and explained to the wonder-eyed kids about the science of map making. Following sunset, we went to the terrace to identify major constellations and stars in the night sky. The children never forgot those lessons.

Even in the later years, age did not diminish his myriad interests, curiosities and intellectual quests. Very often I would drop by at his clinic during the short coffee break that he permitted, when books and ideas were exchanged and welfare of family members enquired and burdens, if any, shared. But never any gossip or petty thought was permitted.

Alas that door is shut, yet myriad windows to larger worlds left open. Here was a true modern-day karam yogi.

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