Monday, June 24, 2024

Getting homeopathy a Padma award

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At a time when the scientific community derided homeopathy as scientifically implausible, and when the world over people looked askance at the incredible system that uses ‘vanishingly small doses’ of medicinal ingredients to treat a patient, Dr Mukesh Batra, founder-chairman of Dr Batra’s group of companies, worked quietly for decades to establish a chain of techno-powered homeopathy clinics in six countries and make his venture an FMCG brand. A first-generation entrepreneur, he is the author of several books on homeopathy and a health columnist for prestigious publications.  
Hailing from a family of medics; where his mother was an allopath, and his father a homeopath, it did not take Dr. Mukesh long to strike out on his own in homeopathy. Credited for using modern technology to bring standardisation to ‘homeopathic healthcare solutions’, Dr. Mukesh Batra initially wanted to get into hotel management. Today, having ‘served’ the medical field umpteen delicacies as less-expensive and efficacious treatment options, Dr Mukesh Batra, a Padma Shri awardee, is also deeply involved in philanthropic work through Dr. Batra’s Foundation.

In an illuminating conversation with The Pioneer’s Tejal Sinha, Dr Mukesh Batra takes us through his childhood, formative years, representing homeopathy on the global platform, and more. The best part is that he has a special place in his dil for Hyderabad, which had helped him in popularising homeopathy. In fact, every visit to the city helps him in popularising homeopathy further, he avers.Characteristically differing phases of life
I was a different kind of kid at differing phases of life. When I was very young, I was very calm and composed. My father was a homeopathic doctor. He was the principal of a college in Lucknow. My mother was an allopathic doctor; she was the deputy director of health services in Uttar Pradesh. She ultimately switched to homeopathy. She was the first lady doctor from India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (unit of DRDO). I was brought up by my Naana and Naani in Agra; so, I had a very lonely childhood. There were no toys, but we had games like cricket, football, hockey, and badminton. I had all of them as part of my own Kothi in Agra.
Moving to Bombay and being a firebrat
Then I had to move from Agra to Bombay for my higher education, and then again, there was a big gap. When I was in Agra, I was studying Rahim ke dohe and advancing things in the 5th standard. When I came to Bombay, my English was very poor. I had to catch up on my English in Bombay, as I was part of a very modern school with lots of rich kids as well. In fact, the entire Kapoor family graduated from the school in which I had studied. Conversing with people was also a challenge. Soon I got into extra-curricular activities. I went out more, I became a debater, started acting in plays, took part in elocution competitions, and I won in many of the contests. All that gave me confidence. With that boost in confidence, when I joined college, I stood for elections. I then became a student leader. Then when I joined medical college, I conducted strikes on behalf of students and fought for their rights. I thus became a firebrat. I have had different phases of my life, and then when I became a doctor, I also became a challenger in medicine because I to fight against an established system of medicine; it had to fight my way for establishing homeopathy. Now I think that I am a little older, a little more serene, and also because I have done spirituals, I am much calmer now. So, now I don’t normally lose my temper.
Seeing doctors in my house, I did not want to become one
I never wanted to become a doctor. That is what happens when you see your parents as doctors. Still, I am blessed that one of my sons is a doctor. But my grandson does not want to be a doctor. So, when your parents are doctors, they give so much of themselves. Medicine is a profession that takes a lot from you, and there is a lot of service that goes into it. We have to serve people, and you have to work with that bhavna — thought and feeling. We have seen our parents on the bedside of people, but not by our side when we needed them.
Wanted to get into hotel management
As a youngster, I wanted to get into hotel management because that field has always been glamorous. One of my uncles owned a hotel. He had sent me there once and asked me to go and meet someone. The first thing that guy did was to take me to the kitchen and say, ‘Now, start washing the dishes’.  Then, he took me to the toilet and asked me to ‘start doing housekeeping in the washroom’. That was the end of my ambition to join hotel management. I was like, ‘This is not what I want, and medicine is much better’. Somebody also told me that you tend to be very impressionable when you are young. So, one of my father’s friends asked me to join the army, saying army life is very good. I then tried to join the medical corps in the Army. I came up to the last stage, and I did not get it. At that time, a homeopathy college was being set up — a new college. So, the trustees would come home to good families and say, Aap apna beta humko dedo — meaning, give your child to us– homeopathy. Because that was how it used to be that time. They would take more people from good homes to pick up homeopathy. So, actually I was kind of invited by the trustees to join the college. Today, you need 98 per cent marks to get into a college offering courses in homeopathy. I got in very easily.
The not-so-easy path to homeopathy
When I passed out, I was one of the youngest doctors– at 22, and I started my practice when I was 23 years old. Homeopathy was not well-known at that time. People were practicing it, but not as a profession; so, when you try to do it as a profession, it becomes a challenge because then people would say if it is for free, then it would be good. But if you are charging, it is better to go to a different doctor. Unfortunately, that was how it used to be at that time. I still remember that at parties, people would ask ‘What you do?’ I used to be like, ‘I am a doctor, and they would all surround you; and, the moment you said you were a ‘homeopathic doctor’, they would just turn away. From there to now, it has been 50 years and a long journey. But now everything has changed. Now people look forward to homeopathy, which has become the 2nd largest system of medicine in the world, according to the World Health Organisation and over 10 crore people use homeopathy. Back then, if your parents were not supporting you or had no other support, banks would also not support you because medicine was not an industry. You could not even get a loan. It was very challenging. I had to borrow money at 36 per cent per year, and it took me 10 years to repay all my loans. So, the best part of my life went into paying other people. So, therefore, those people were also my partners before I got any money out, if you look at it that way.
Homeopathic miracles on self
I saw miracles happening in front of my eyes, and I experienced them myself. I had some 28 warts on my face, and they just grew. and I was the general secretary of the college, and I did not want to go like that on the stage. So, I used homeopathic medicine, and they all fell off in just one dose.
Grandchildren- the biggest joy
My eldest is now 18 years old, and he shares my passion. He also sings with me on stage. We go on photography holidays together. Since he was 4 years old, we have taken one holiday every year, and it is the happiest moment of my life — to just be with him and spend time with him. I am so proud that even now that he is 18 years old and has his own group of friends, he still wants to be with me.
Working in a charitable clinic
I started off with a charitable clinic, worked there for nine years, and got Rs 150 rupees a month. I used to change three buses to go to work and then set up a charitable clinic in Dharavi, which is the largest slum in Asia. So, I would cross all the nalas and go there and give free services over there as well. I built up my career very hard, mainly through charitable trust, because it was then that I got known and became famous, and I started seeing 350 patients every day, and it was in the Malabar Hills; so, even well-off people came. That was also the place where film stars came; ministers came; so, I got kind of popular in some way, and that kind of helped me establish myself.
I started my polyclinic, but it was tough
Then I started my practice in polyclinics. But even then, people were not willing to give me Homeopathy hai toh nahi nahi and when I wanted to set up my first clinic in London much later in Harley Street, they said we could not have homeopathic doctors because it would lower our brand. I fought for it, and then for 16 years we ran a clinic there. So, we managed to do it there, but it was challenging. From polyclinics, I went on to own my own clinic in 1982. It was the world’s first computerised clinic, but I did not have enough money, and I needed more money. I had to take out a loan, and it took me 10 years to pay it back. However, it did very well for me because I did not have to rush, I could see patients at my own pace, and I had my own piece of mind.
My son pushed me to go to Harvard University
I had no such idea. I always say this as a joke: parents want their children to go to Harvard University or study abroad for higher education. In my case, my son sent me to college. Why? Because he could not go to college and wanted to go to Harvard but could not go because he had a kid, and he was like, ‘Papa, I can’t do it, you go’. It was a very vicarious pleasure that I got when my son sent me to college at 60. I was the oldest student there. Believe me, it was not easy at all. I was a first-generation entrepreneur, and I had set up my company. I thought I knew everything, but there I realised how much I did not know. I realised how much more I needed to know. From there, when I came back, I realised it took me five years to put those points from Harvard into my company. It was a great and tough experience, but I enjoyed it.
MF Hussain painted the ceiling of my clinic
MF Hussain painted the ceiling of my clinic. He had some chronic problems. He told me that he would gift me a painting if I cured him. One of the paintings is just across from where I am sitting right now. He has put me as Hanuman, and on my tail, he has a family over there, and in my hand, he has called Batra’s Sanjeevni Buti, and below that, he has written, Mukesh, you are doing great work to keep our people healthy, and then he has signed it. So, it was like a tribute to whatever work I had done for him. Like that, he has done many special stories for me. I was like, since I have made you alright, where is my gift, and he was like, here it is-he took out a brush that he had always carried with him, and in 15-20 minutes my painting was ready, and he was like, ‘You go back to any of the masters in art and you’ll find the best ones are always on ceilings’. And then he gave me examples of Sistine Chapel, Michael Jack, and Angelo. And why? Because if you need to understand art, you should be in a flat position where your body has rested, because then you can appreciate more and be in a relaxed state of mind. Now, when your patients come and you put them in the examination bed, when they look at the ceiling, it will calm their mind and heart. And therefore, the healing will begin. That was his gift, not only to me but also to my patients.
Padma Shri – an award for homeopathy
It was a big surprise when it was suggested to me that I might probably get a Padma Shri. For, the previous year it did not happen though my name was on the list of Padma Shri nominees. It was my son’s birthday — January 25th, and I got a call from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. They told me that I have been selected for Padma Shri in 2012. I was shocked and could not believe it. The next day, it was there in the media, and I was very thrilled and excited. I was thrilled for two things: you feel very happy when your country, government, and people recognise your work. You may have received international awards, but getting that recognition from your own country feels gratifying, very satisfying, and courageous. Secondly, I was happy that homeopathy was recognised. So, for a homeopath to get a Padma Shri award for medicine (that’s how it was announced) — it is a big thing.
Foundation from his passion
When I turned 50, I set up the Dr. Batra’s Foundation, and from that time on, even before the CSIR became the buzzword, we have been doing it all along. I made sure that I do things like my passion for singing, photography, and writing; everything goes to charity. So, for my singing, I collect funds for an old widows’ home in Bombay. With photography, I have had 53 exhibitions internationally. The Government of Dubai had my exhibition last year. The Western Australian government has invited me to shoot for them once for their tourism department. So, I’ve done quite a lot of exhibitions, and that goes for visually challenged people. However, later, without creating any other infrastructure, we can open our doors for people who cannot afford the treatment, and so for the last few years, that is what we have been doing, and that’s been our focus. On the 2nd Wednesday of every month, we open the clinics early so that anybody who cannot afford the treatments can get lifelong free treatment at any of Dr. Batra’s clinics. It’s not like an OPD; it’s a lifelong facility. There is no discrimination between a paid patient and a free patient, everybody who comes to the clinic gets the same service, same quality of medicine, and that is the kind of service that we are doing. We have treated over 20, 000 patients every year, and during the pandemic, we gave over Rs 2 crore worth medicines free to the entire Maharashtra Police force and other people who wanted preventive homeopathic medicine. It also has an association with the top 15 homeopathic colleges in the country; they have a Dr. Batra’s scholarship. We give awards and cash prizes to people who are studying at these universities as well as to those who are from other colleges and to those who are financially challenged. So, for people who don’t have money, we pay for their education.
Hyderabad has popularised homeopathy even more
We are grateful for the responses that we have received in Hyderabad and the local people’s affection. We have been in Hyderabad for more than 20 years, and we have multiple clinics there. So, it has allowed us to grow homeopathy and popularise it even more. There have always been good colleges in Hyderabad, homeopathy colleges, and good doctors in Hyderabad, and we are grateful for the affection that we have as well as the brand. We are happy that we are able to serve the people of Hyderabad. Personally, whenever I visit Hyderabad, I find the Hyderabadi people were very warm and loving. I find them very simple, rooted, grounded, and accepting, even of people who are not from their city. Even as outsiders, they have always been welcomed with open arms. It has been a wonderful journey in Hyd.
5 years of being an author now

I wrote my first book in 1982 for an international publishing house called Arnold-Heinemann. And that book did very well. It was also one of the first homeopathic books for the common man. For the last 5 years, I have had a journey as an author, and it has been kind of a planned journey, and that has been very difficult and very exciting. I started five years ago, and I collaborated with Ashwin Sanghi, who is a very well-known author. The book did so well, and it just excited me enough that I started writing one book every year. I got the offer to write my biography when I was 70 years old, and that was during COVID time. So, I had the time to write it. This is something that excited me, and I don’t want to leave. Last year, I wrote about physical health and healing with homeopathy, and this time I’ve written about mental and emotional health. Next year, I am hoping to write on spiritual health.Rapid fire:

Describe yourself in three words: Passionate, charitable, kind
Are you religious or a spiritual person: Spiritual
What’s your driving force: Helping people
Your pinch-me moment of life: Getting on to the stage and receiving Padma Shri at Rashtrapathi Bhavan

Guilty pleasure: Chocolates 

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