Every year several young ambitious students embark on the world of medicine and join medical school to fulfill their dream of service to the society and to satisfy their curious scientific minds. This journey requires one to fully acquaint themselves with the human body and its functions. The process to achieve that begins in an Anatomy dissection hall where students dissect a real human body to understand its various intricacies.
Where do these bodies come from, you ask? Well they are donated by several generous people who sacrifice their bodies for the education of medical students and for research following their demise. We pay our respects to these silent teachers and appreciate the spirit of their families.
Thus on a bright Sunday morning we travelled to a humble home in the Army Welfare Housing Society of Faridabad to bring to you a story of determination, courage and values.
Dr Niranjan Mitra was born on 18 March 1935 in Calcutta. He went on to pursue Medicine from Calcutta Medical College in the year 1955.
Having lost his father just around the time he joined, his entire medical education was supported by his elder brother. Subsequently he
joined the Indian Army (Army Medical Corps). He served for a glorious 30 years rising up to the rank of Brigadier before hanging up his uniform in the year 1993. A strict disciplinarian and yet a compassionate family man, Dr Mitra inspired everyone around him throughout his life and continues to do so even after death. For when he finally took his last breath on 29 September 2016, his body was donated to Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi as per his wishes to help educate a fresh batch of students.
This however is not the first instance that a family member had donated their body. Mrs. Shibani Mitra, wife of Dr Mitra had also pledged to donate and her wishes were honoured after her early death in the year 2002 due to Breast Cancer.
She hoped that even if one student of the batch of 200 went on to become a cancer specialist and was able to find a cure for it then her sacrifice and contribution would be worth it. Her husband later decided to donate as he was well aware of the importance of healthy intact bodies. Not only did they donate their bodies, but both of them had made a separate pledge to donate their eyes. Mrs Mitra’s donation later returned both eyesight and livelihood to two recipients.
She was a sheer force of determination and courage. Remembering fondly their son shares – “When my mother started teaching she used to travel to school by the rickshaw. One day the rickshaw wala misbehaved and she decided at the age of around 35 to learn how to ride a bicycle. She fell about four times. She got her tetanus injection and resumed learning the next day. Within a week she started going to school using her cycle. When she decided on something she had to do it.” She went from riding a bicycle to riding a Kinetic which is her own little story of personal growth.
Mitra family survived by their son and daughter. We were lucky to be in conversation with Mr Priyadarshi Mitra, their son; with his wife Mrs Lily Mitra and their two sons Pritish and Pronoy. He gave us a glimpse into Dr Niranjan Mita’s life. As he nervously settled into the interview he described his father as a compassionate man who always made sure that he could help those around him to his own capacity. He always made time for his children and listened to their problems and also offered help whether be it financially or emotionally. When his son once got an opportunity to travel abroad Late N. Mitra wrote him a cheque of a considerable amount so he could enjoy thoroughly as he himself never had a chance to go abroad. This demonstrates his caring nature and his genuine love for his children.
He was a man of varied interests that included Bengali music, film and literature. If anyone wanted to know when a song was composed by Rabindranath Tagore or what it meant, he was the man to turn to. He also owned a mouth organ which he used to play during his Service days. He began his youth with limited means thus he consciously led a limited lifestyle. “As his elder brother paid for his medical education he always felt he should spend less. So his Tau ji used to give him Rs 1/- per month which he used to buy Dhoti kurta from a second hand shop at 25 paise per piece. He washed those sets of clothes so he had a fresh set every day.”
He even served in the 1965 Operations as the Regimental Medical Officer of 25 Gorkha Rifles. The family has also preserved some very unique mementos from the war. One of them is a mug from his college days that he used during the’65 Ops for bathing and shaving purposes. The other is a more curious artifact- a shell of an anti-aircraft gun that he picked up, to remember those tough days.
When asked to describe him in one word their son conveys – “Humane. All of us are humans but my father is one of the most humane persons I know.”
Some of his other interests included watching cricket matches and discussing them with his grandsons. “We used to watch matches together and discuss MS Dhoni. He was a big fan of MS Dhoni. I miss everything about him”, his grandson Pritish fondly recalled.
When Mr Priyadarshi Mitra came to know about his parent’s decision to do whole body donation, he was very supportive of it. He also convinced his other relatives to honour their wishes. Both his parents were very firm about not having any religious ceremony and even refused to have their photographs framed and hung on the wall post their death. He believes that going to a Shamshan ghat and performing the last rites is a more painful way of seeing off a loved one.
Following his parents footsteps both he and his wife have decided to donate their eyes and body. They wish to continue to donate in the same institution Lady Hardinge Medical College as that has become his parents’ final resting place. His sound upbringing even reflects in his own sons.
Mr Mitra wasn’t shy when it came to praising our own efforts in bringing this story out to the masses and hopes it inspires countless others to donate their bodies and also promote the cause.
His message to everyone is – “Body donation in my view is the ultimate sacrifice one can do for the society. I would urge people to look at this more logically, come forward and enroll themselves for this initiative.” He also wishes to volunteer for the cause in his spare time to talk to the masses and convince more and more people to donate their bodies. We wish him and his family all the best for their future endeavors and thank them for taking out their precious time for this interview and sharing their story with us.
– Story by Pallavi Singh, Diksha Yadav & V. Swaathi