Saturday, November 07, 2009

Requiescat: Dr C R Soman

It was my friend who works in the All India Radio who suggested that I meet Dr. C R. Soman, who would be the best person to advise me on the nitty gritty of starting an NGO. I was hesitant, because I was not sure if a person so busy would be able to spare the time for me.
“You’ll be surprised, miss (she was my student too) but he is a fine person. I can’t think of better person to help you. You’ll be amazed at the things he is doing for the community – so many years after retirement. I’ll talk to him”.

And she did, after which I spoke to Dr. Soman on Friday, the 23rd October over the phone. It was just a one minute conversation during which I fixed an appointment with him for 26th, the following Monday . Just a minute of minimum conversation over the phone assured me that here was a person who was very friendly, helpful and absolutely without airs.

I met him in his office (Health Action by the People - HAP) the following Monday. I spent two hours with him. He was working on the computer-was putting together a paper, he told me, for publishing. We have collected so much data that I have decided to publish them in an international journal, he said. I wanted to know more about HAP and he gave a brief but comprehensive description of HAP. He explained why it is BY people and not FOR. Community health is dependent on the awareness of people. Every individual has to be conscious of his/her health. The people themselves must take the initiative of maintaining the health of the community. He told me that the data collected by his NGO provided clear evidence linking obesity to all the ailments that stalk the Kerala population. He spoke of his efforts to spread this awareness among young girls. Catch them before they become obese, was his policy. Prevention is better that cure. He told me how he gave talks to young college going students about maintaining the waistline they have at that moment when they sat in the college auditorium listening to him. Maintaining that waistline has more than cosmetic value – it’s a health insurance.

He detailed out how his NGO engages 120 people to collect medical data across Kerala. Most of them came from financially strained backgrounds but have become income generators for their families after joining HAP. He insisted on these girls purchasing two wheelers of their own in order to facilitate greater mobility. He meant it to be this way – his NGO should function at many levels. Its primary functions are to create awareness among people about health and to gather health data for the research activity of the HAP. The organization also becomes instrumental in providing a livelihood for all those underprivileged who serve it besides making medical test facility available at the doorstep.

I offered my service to HAP. I'd been a teacher, and though am a humanities person, I could make presentations if he gave me the material, I told him. He felt that it did not matter which discipline I specialized in; if the willingness to serve was there, that was enough. He promised to send me the Power Point presentations he had prepared to support his lectures on obesity. Whether he would have taken my offer and actually entrusted the task of imparting health knowledge to a lay person like me, I do not know. But he didn’t dismiss my enthusiasm as futile.

He was not cynical or even skeptical about the NGO I had in mind. He heard me out patiently, commended my willingness to become proactive, but warned me that the road ahead would not be easy. He pointed out with specific examples the hurdles that I was likely to face. One shouldn’t be disheartened by stumbling blocks. Must learn to take them in our stride, he advised.

He gave a copy of the bylaws of his organization and two hours of his time - free consultancy, highlighting the ground realities of floating an NGO. And there was no trace of swagger in his tone!

Last Monday, our group met to work out the action plan for launching the NGO, and we talked about inviting Dr. Soman for the next meeting!

When I told him that I was DR. V P Gangadharan’s patient, Dr. Soman, in a very matter of fact tone stated that “Gangadharan is among the last of a dying species of doctors – dedicated, totally committed, for whom the medical profession is a vocation”. He made non committal remarks about Dr. Gangadharan’s troubles while working in a premier medical institution. A couple of days later, I heard from someone who was in the medical college that Dr. Soman was the one who spearheaded the action to protect and support Dr. Gangadharan during his difficult days, for he was convinced that Dr. Gangadharan was on the right side of the ethical boundary.

While talking to me, the telephone rang and he was making arrangements for two air tickets to Bangalore – for him and his wife. “It’s partly official-for HAP’, he told me by way of a small apology for keeping me waiting while he was on the phone.

I do not know if he made that trip to Bangalore. I didn’t pay attention to the dates he mentioned.

A lean tall man, level headed, low profile, cheerful and apparently at peace with himself, and of that type with whom one doesn’t associate ill health - that was my first impression of Dr. Soman. It shocked me to read in yesterday’s papers, ten days after the only one time i met him, that he was battling for his life. Later in the day, the news of the death of this activist who did make a difference and who still had a lot to give to humanity, set me wondering about those extra terrestrial pilots who steer our destiny.


  1. A fine piece of obitury sincerly written. Dr.CR Soman was multi face personality
    May god rest his soul in peace

  2. Well done note. If we dont respond to such incidents who else will?
    He was my teacher,but lost contacts with him after leaving college. Untiring,relentless energy.Commitment to humanity.Selflessness shown as an example to others.
    His stature and one expected his departure.
    But life is full of the unexpected..isnt it?

  3. I know Dr Soman only thru his articles and TV programmes. But he had come across to me as a gentle and dedicated person. Feel sad that he's no longer there. Your post is a nice tribute to him.

  4. Good tribute. I could listen to some of his lectures and even had some personal interaction regarding the possibilty of a study funded and guided by HAP.

    You should tell us more about the proposed NGO.

  5. @
    shall post a blog on it after we register and get a project going.shud happen in 2 months.
    the objective is waste management - mostly biodegradable - and minise littering thru education

  6. I am deeply touched by your tributes to Dr. Soman. I knew him for 72 years. He happens to be my Kochaniyan. He always called me Kochettan. We spent our childhood together on the banks of meenachil at Nagampadom, swam together, played tennis ball cricket together, went to M.T.Seminary and later University college together. We were great pals and I feel like a bird with one wing gone. I would like to go down the memory lane and share with you some anecdotes which will throw some insight into the evolution of Soman as a fearless activist, a man of courage and conviction and a great visionary. Please watch out for my next blog. Dr. C.R.Sreedharan .

  7. Thank you for the moving tribute - I had intended to post this long back but circumstances has made it possible only now.

    I do not know if he made that trip to Bangalore. I didn’t pay attention to the dates he mentioned.

    He did make the trip. It was partly official as you mentioned - the other part was to catch up with his elder son (myself) and family. To clear any misunderstandings all his "partly official" trips were always paid from his own pocket - the organization which he visited (I do not remember the name - just arranged for his transport from the airport to their office and then back at my home).

    He stayed with us for the rest of the weekend, but would not dream of extending his stay, Monday morning he had to be back in Trivandrum. Was it fate, I do not know- he forgot this mobile and returned back to pick it up 10 minutes after we bid goodbye. Three days later, barely 4 hours after he had spoken to us on phone, he suffered that fatal heart attack, leaving a vacuum which will never ever be filled in our lives.

    My young son (too young to understand more than the fact that Achahcha has gone to heaven in an ambulance)still asks when he is coming back . Our hope is that he will emulate my Dad- after all despite his hectic schedule my Dad had made it a point to initiate his grand son to the world of learning during Vijayadasami a couple of years back.

    Thanks once again

  8. @ isle of wight
    my condolences. i had gone to Dr's house to pay my respects when he lay in state.
    i consider myself privileged being able to meet your father and equally privileged to be able to post this tribute to that great person.
    my plans for the NGO fell thru cos of my ill health. man proposes - - - -


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