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Table of Contents
Year : 2018  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 57-59

Prof. Shyamal Kumar Das (1954–2018): A life well lived

1 Ex-Additional Chief Health Director, Neurology, B. R. Singh Hospital, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
2 Department of Neurology, Institute of Neurosciences, Kolkata, West Bengal, India

Date of Web Publication24-Dec-2018

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/AOMD.AOMD_22_18

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How to cite this article:
Ghosh B, Kumar H. Prof. Shyamal Kumar Das (1954–2018): A life well lived. Ann Mov Disord 2018;1:57-9

How to cite this URL:
Ghosh B, Kumar H. Prof. Shyamal Kumar Das (1954–2018): A life well lived. Ann Mov Disord [serial online] 2018 [cited 2023 May 30];1:57-9. Available from: https://www.aomd.in/text.asp?2018/1/1/57/248386

It was a dark August morning when my mobile got abuzz with a somber message, “Shyamal Da is no more.” It was the end of his struggle against the health issues over the last couple of months. But it was not really the end; it was the beginning of his legacy that will live on in our hearts and minds. Whenever we think of him, a face with baby-like smile flashes, a voice with sweet Bengali accent rings in ears—“Bhashkor, Reeshhee eta ki? Suddhoo patient dekhchho. Bhalo research kaaj koro” (Bhaskar, Rishi don’t submerge yourself into mere clinical work; do some relevant research).

Prof. Shyamal Kumar Das was born on January 3, 1954, in Dhaniakhali, a sleepy hamlet of West Bengal, 40 miles north of Kolkata. He received his initial education in the village school. He was exceptionally meritorious and obedient—the cynosure of his teachers’ eyes. His academic achievements are part of the folklore for village youngsters to follow. He moved to Calcutta (now Kolkata) for higher education but remained a village simpleton at heart. Young Shyamal joined Medical College Calcutta for pursuing MBBS. As a medical student, he received numerous medals and awards including Sir Pardey Lukis Memorial Scholarship and Dear Prize in Clinical Medicine as a medical student. He soon realized that Neurology was his calling and went on to complete his MD (Medicine) in 1983 and DM (Neurology) in 1985 from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh. The challenge of clinical movement disorders fascinated him and he pursued clinical fellowship in this subspecialty at the University of Calgary under the mentorship of Prof. Oksana Suchowersky. Prof. Oksana was impressed by the brilliance of this humble man from Bengal. The relationship of mentor and mentee evolved into friendship with unconditional mutual admiration. Prof. Oksana was reminiscing, “I first met Dr. Das in 1997 as a young consultant, and from his demeanor knew right away that he was already an outstanding clinician, and educator. He was truly an outstanding individual in all three areas: clinical care, research and education. He will be missed by myself, and many others as not only a colleague but as a friend.” Prof. Das maintained a special place for Calgary in his heart and was later conferred the title of “Honorary Calgarian” by the Mayor of the City of Calgary, Canada.

Prof. Das started his professional career as a government physician in Malda District Hospital from 1986 to 1992, as a Consultant Neurologist. He carried out clinical research and published papers in reputed journals while working in a remote place where with its own set of challenges. In 1992, he was promoted to RMO cum Clinical Tutor, Department of Neuromedicine, Bangur Institute of Neurology (BIN), Kolkata. Since then, there was no looking back and he climbed up the ladder to become Professor and Head of Neurology in BIN. Except for 3 years, he continued to work at BIN and excelled in his role as clinician, teacher, mentor, and researcher. He was teacher of teachers, the peer of peers, researcher of researchers—a real maestro of his field. There was an interlude of 3 years when he was transferred out from Kolkata to Burdwan Medical College. He turned these years of hardship into opportunities and developed the Department of Neurology and started the DM course there.

His stint at BIN, Kolkata, will be remembered as the golden age of Neurology in this part of country. He mentored generations of student and continued to guide them over the years. He used to impart pearls of wisdom to students and peers at every encounter—no meeting with him was an “empty” meeting; we always felt enlightened. He inspired the students to inculcate research into their clinical practice and produce their own data. He was instrumental in starting Neurogenetic clinic at BIN, first of its kind in the country. He also started Movement Disorders clinic and Botulinum Toxin injection clinic at BIN. His research papers related to epidemiology of Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and stroke were published in high-impact journals such as Neurology and are truly landmark papers.

Prof. Das was one of the founder members of Movement Disorders Society of India (MDSI) and worked tirelessly to make this society take roots. His contribution to movement disorders was recognized by peers and he became the President of MDSI in 2016–2017. He was also involved with various NGOs and was the man behind the Kolkata chapter of ARDSI (Alzheimer’s and Related Disorders Society of India). To make young neurologists and neurology trainees interested in movement disorders, he started a quarterly movement disorders forum where neurology trainees of the city present video cases for discussion by faculty and students. His masterly analysis of the cases will reverberate in the hall of future meetings.

His dedication and love for his patients were exemplary. He always felt their pain and in the process became a partner in the happiness and sorrow of them and their caregivers. No wonder he had a huge number of patients following him for decades. After his sad demise, we got to see some of his patients and needless to say, seeing them brings back a surge of memories. It was heart-wrenching to see one of his old patients fishing out a prescription of Prof. Das from his weather-beaten and partially torn MRI cover, touch that crumpled piece of paper with utmost love and care, and then weep inconsolably.

Prof. Das was the epitome of simplicity and that was genuine simplicity, not a put up one. He was a man of frugal taste—be it his dress, his glass frame, his old car, his home with sparse old furniture—, there was nothing flashy about him. But when he spoke about movement disorders, he was absolutely dazzling! When he was posted in Bardhaman as the Head of Department of Neurology, he used to commute to Kolkata in public transport and never made a fuss about it. He was at a plane of thought and peace that worldly comfort did not matter to him. Once, a medical representative offered to arrange a car for him from Bardhaman to Kolkata and Prof. Das thundered, “Never again.” That representative felt bad that day but recalled this anecdote recently with teary eyes and obvious fondness.

Prof. Das was well read and well informed both socially and politically. He was deeply concerned about the ongoing social and political activities and was an avid consumer of multiple sources of news media. He believed that different media outlets reported the same news from different perspectives. Hence, to develop a proper understanding of the social and political events, it was important to assess all the information and analysis provided by the different sources. A champion of the public health system, he believed that a thorough understanding of the society and its people were fundamental in providing ethical and high-quality medical care to his patients.

Prof. Das was a workaholic—a real Karma Yogi. His extracurricular activities were limited with one weakness—he was an avid cinema lover. He loved thriller and detective movies. As a young medical student, he was known to be a cinema addict and watched a movie before appearing for every exam throughout his medical career. As a child growing up in his village Dhaniakhali, he was notorious for quietly escaping study sessions at home to watch “bioscopes.”

He is survived by his wife Roma Das, daughter Surma, and son Siddhartha. He was a family man and a proud father. His children have imbibed the values and simplicity of their father and are doing well in their respective careers.

Prof. Das left us at the peak of his career. One can imagine the pain of students and colleagues losing their Head of the Department and their mentor in the very room where he used to take rounds every day. But he continues to live on in the minds and hearts of several students and patients and everyone who was touched briefly by his gentleness, humility, and generosity. He will remain an inspiration for those of us who were fortunate to observe this great teacher and human being at work. It is apt to borrow a historical quote that fits so well with Prof. Shyamal Kumar Das, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”

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