No flat for this doc!

No flat for this doc!

A home can tell you so much about its inhabitants. Jisha Krishnan drops in at Dr Sudarshan Ballal’s residence on Lavelle Road to learn more about one of the most sought-after nephrologists in the country

The shift is dramatic. From the busy road onto this picturesque residence on Lavelle Road. The honking makes way for the chirping of birds, the automobiles disappear into the many shades of green, as the wooden gate ushers us into a splendid oasis right in the heart of the City.

We are 15 minutes behind schedule and Dr Sudarshan Ballal is waiting at the porch with his son, Devesh. In his “Sunday clothes” – T-shirt and pants – the medical director of Manipal Hospitals, usually clad in crisp suits, sets a casual tone to our conversation. 

The house was built in 1979, soon after Dr Sudarshan got married and was doing his post graduation. It was kept locked for 10 years when he was in the US.

“The house has been renovated a couple of times, though I’ve had no say in the matter,” jokes the renowned nephrologist.

“He can say all his wants, but mom is not going to listen to him,” adds the son, an aspiring cancer surgeon. The lady in question, Hema, is not at home; she’s visiting their second daughter Diya, a graphic designer in Manhattan. Anubha, the elder daughter, has joined the Manipal hospital in Malaysia, after completing her masters in business. 

If walls could speak

The two-storied home has an element of understated elegance. Whether it’s the wildlife on the cushions or the piano in the living room, the Thanjavur painting along the stairway, or the striking Ganesha from Odisha, it’s hard to miss the dynamic vibe here. The dining table is huge, the kitchen area compact.

The servants’ quarters is located on the ground floor, while the upper floor houses the master bedroom, children’s rooms, guest room and the home office. The garden area, interestingly, has a beautifully decorated well, amidst the plants and flowers. “I trust my wife’s taste completely,” says the doctor, who treats “the most intelligent organ of the body”.

“God is kind enough to give us two kidneys. We can easily donate one,” he says. Although kidney donation is more common now, Dr Sudarshan avers that about 90 per cent of intra-family donation happens to be from women to men (wife to husband, mother to son, sister to brother). It’s rather rare to come across a man willing to donate a kidney to his wife, daughter or sister.

“Sometimes women are not really keen, but there’s too much societal pressure,” admits the doctor. In such cases, he resorts to white lies.

“We say that the donor is not medically fit and help prevent a family dispute,” he explains. The Ballals believe in the power of prayers. As a family, they pray everyday. No rituals, just a private conversation with the almighty. There’s a small puja room on the ground floor. It’s white and serene, no frills.

The living room has a pop of colour by way of a painting depicting two sisters (from a post-graduate student’s brother’s exhibition). There’s a wall of fame that displays Dr Sudarshan’s many medals and then, there are souvenirs from the family’s travels across the globe.

A piece of Egypt on the wall, figurines from Bali, a design inspiration from Kathmandu…each has a family story. For instance, the intricate teak door that now functions as an artefact on the first floor was inspired by a design seen in Kathmandu, when Dr Sudarshan and his wife were on their honeymoon.

“She took a photograph of the design and once we were back, got a carpenter from Mangaluru to replicate it,” informs the visibly-pleased husband.

Actually, it’s hard to imagine the doctor without a smile. He’s a photographer’s delight, and popular with the hospital staff and patients alike. “I like to get things done with a smile, without making people feel small. I believe that anyone who humiliates his subordinates cannot be a good human being,” he says, in all earnestness. 

And what makes for a good doctor? Willingness to work very hard and ability to empathise with patients, he maintains. Even today, after three decades in the profession, the doctor ensures that 60 per cent of his time is devoted to patient care; the remaining time is for academics and administration. 
There’s a two-months waiting period to get his appointment. “But the hospital has a group of eight competent nephrologists, so we will look into the case immediately, if it’s an emergency,” he says. 

Back in 1970, when he joined Kasturba Medical College in Mumbai, there were many patients dying of kidney failure. That’s what prompted him to take up nephrology – not a popular choice then.

“Everybody wanted to become a cardiologist. Until about a couple of years ago, there were only about 800 nephrologists in our country of 1.2 billion,” informs the doctor, who is all for the use of capital letters (given the complications that a doctor’s bad handwriting can cause) and generic drugs (for its cost-effectiveness) in medical prescriptions.

The view and more

It’s time for Devesh to leave. He’s interning at MS Ramaiah Hospital and 100 per cent attendance is compulsory. “We get one day off a month; if you miss a day, you repeat it,” says the to-be-doctor, before rushing off. It’s a tough career, admits the father. He has worked for more than 100 hours a week, with very little sleep, in his younger days as a student in the US.

“But medicine is still a good profession. There’s job security, remuneration is good, and the infrastructure here is also getting better,” explains the doctor, who has no plans of retiring anytime soon. 

So, why aren’t his daughters in the profession? “They didn’t want to. I don’t think parents should force career decisions on their children,” says the father of three. Besides, it’s not easy managing a family and medical practice, he adds. That, perhaps, explains why medicine, especially the surgical field, is still male dominated.

Dr Sudarshan’s antidote to stress is watching some television on his recliner in the bedroom and catching a movie in the theatre. Space is important; he has never lived in a flat. Nothing quite matches the experience of sipping coffee on the portico, enjoying the green view – except for the sight of “the first multi-storied ugly building of the City” bang in front!

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