The Man behind Constructed Cure in Coimbatore – Dr. N. Jaganathan

Tuberculosis like many other diseases was a great curse to the world. It affected many and killed more. No one could turn back to see what caused the explosion of bacteria. The whole world was pleading for a cure and so was Coimbatore in 1930s. The locals prayed at the Dandu Mariamman temple during times of pox and sought relief for the Plague. At times of fever, they used to seek the benediction of Bhadrakali Amman, who happened to be one of the nine sisters of Coimbatore. To provide better living conditions, the administration of Diwan Bahadur C. S. Rathinasabapathy Mudaliar, who was the Municipal Chairman between 1921 and 1936, created newer settlements like R. S. Puram and Ram Nagar. In fact, the young Dr. R. K. Shanmukham Chetty (later he became the first Finance Minister of independent India) had to move to Racecourse from the old town area in order to address his health-related issues. Tuberculosis continued to afflict the local populace for decades and the doctors like the visionary Dr. N. Jaganathan were treated next to God by the patients who got their lives saved. 

Dr. N. Jaganathan was born to P. R. Narayana Naidu and Krishnammal on the 9th of September 1909. He was the doctor who put Coimbatore on the medical map of the country. He did his early education at St. Michaels High School and his M. B. B. S. from the Madras Medical College by the year 1935. Thereafter, the visionary doctor did his TDD Diploma at Madanapalli in the year 1941. Dr. N. Jaganathan subsequently became a member of the American Trudeau Society in the year 1951. Brilliant Jaganathan got married to Vanajakshi, a Gold Medalist in Chemistry from the famous Queen Mary's College in the year 1935 and her father Muthukrishna Naidu was a Mirasdar in Sirkazhi those days. Octogenarian Dr. J. Sanath Kumar was born to the Jaganathan couple in the year 1936 and he was followed by the Late J. Balagopal thereafter. Between 1936 and 1938, for about a period of 2 years, Dr. N. Jaganathan lived in the ‘Shell House’ on Avinashi road for a monthly rent of Rs. 150, a princely sum those days. ‘Shell House’ got its name on account of being the guest house of the Burma Shell oil company. 

During the Word War II (1939 - 1945), he was designated as the air raid warden for emergency services for which he was given a tropical hat and a whistle. He used to wear the hat with holes on the top of the same as part of the statutory costume. It was possible to share the details pertaining to Dr. Jaganathan due to the efforts of his doctor son, Dr. Sanath Kumar who lives along with his family in Racecourse. S. Jaganathan, who is the great grandson of Dr, N. Jaganathan was also born on the same birthday as the doctor, lives along with his family with Dr. Sanath Kumar. 

Dr. J. Sanath Kumar recalls the situation those days while reminiscing details pertaining to his father. "Those were the times when fumigation was done in the case of plague and it was done in a sealed shed. Initially my father practiced from Ramakrishna Medical Hall in Big Bazaar street and moved over to Dr. Nanjappa road (Jail road) by establishing a Tuberculosis Sanitorium there. Ultimately, he decided to create a first of its kind facility for treating TB by founding the Coimbatore Tuberculosis Sanitorium at Peelamedu in the year 1952. The large 16 plus acre premises housed all the required facilities to treat the terrible disease. Those days an X Ray and associated blood tests were accompanied by long treatment periods and our center specialized in it for years. My father was of idea that the money earned from the better off could be used to treat the poor patients. Besides all this, we must remember that the family doctor culture was prevalent those days and he used to be the physician for several leading lights belonging to the P. S. G. and S. N. R. families. Prof G. R. Damodaran and mill owner G. N. Venkatapathy were well known to him." 

Dr. N. Jaganathan also has to his credit of bringing in formal professional nursing care to Coimbatore. He sponsored the chief of nursing staff of GKNM hospital, Srimathi Saraswathi to London for professional nursing training program. She would come back and bring in a whole new culture of professional nursing care to Coimbatore. 

His Highness Sri Jaya Chamaraja Wadiyar, the Rajpramukh of Mysore inaugurated the Coimbatore Tuberculosis Sanitorium and its reputation attracted several visitors during the formative years of the republic. The Union Health Minister, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, Dr. C. Subramaniam who happened to be the father of the Green Revolution and Dr. P. V. Benjamin who was the Tuberculosis Advisor the Government of India were among the important personages who visited the Coimbatore Tuberculosis Sanitorium. Dr. Jaganathan loved cricket and he used to follow Lala Amarnath and Vinoo Mankad. Interestingly, he was fantastic carrom player and had won several tournaments those days. He used to walk every day in Racecourse, and he passed away during one of his walks on the 5th of January 1972. 

The Coimbatore Tuberculosis Sanitorium was a precursor to the Coimbatore Medical College that came up later in the same neighborhood. The sanitorium at Coimbatore was among a handful which included the ones at Perundurai, Tambaram and Senjipatti in our State. A number of people from Kerala and Tamil Nadu got a permanent release from Tuberculosis thanks to efforts of the visionary Dr. N. Jaganathan who used to reside at his art deco bungalow "Narayan Bagh" in V. Palaniswamy Naidu street in Avinashi road.  

Even to this day, the neem trees that were planted in order to establish a healthy environment within the Coimbatore Tuberculosis Sanitorium continue to offer good breeze and shade to the denizens who live at Dr. N. Jaganathan Nagar that has come in the place of this historic medical facility. Dr. N. Jaganthan was known for his philanthropy. He would not charge anything from the needy, even till this date many recollect his dharmic activities. The legacy of such initiatives will surely inspire the service mind among the people practicing medicine in our region. If Coimbatore is a medical tourism hub today, we must remember that it began with the establishment of the Coimbatore Tuberculosis Sanitorium by Dr. N. Jaganathan. 

Sri. Rajesh Govindarajulu, Chief Curator, The Vernadah Club Pvt. Ltd.