Driven to serve

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The late Dr M K Rajakumar’s life was driven by service to others without regard to what he might gain in return, observes Dr Agoes Salim.

I first met Rajakumar in 1954. The occasion was the ‘Meet the new students’ session of the University Socialist Club. I remember him well because he was enthusiastic about the club, its objectives and its role in the pursuit of independence from the British. He was also attentive toward the new students and readily answered our questions.

We met several times during my undergraduate days in Singapore at club meetings and activities. As he was studying medicine and I was pursuing an arts course, we seldom met apart from these occasions. He graduated a couple of years before I finished my own studies. I met up with him again when both of us came to Kuala Lumpur to work.

For maybe six months before I went to the United States, I moved into his quarters. He had invited Syed Husin and me, two homeless creatures, to share his quarters at no cost. Those were the early days of Merdeka. Many others would come to visit him from time to time. His brother–in-law B C Sekhar would come over from Petaling Jaya with Sukumari in tow and little Jayan too. Our discussions would always turn to the political scene. I learnt a lot from his observations, his analyses and his world view. In many ways he shaped my own world view.

We had a great time, enjoying Muniammah’s (the family cook) cooking. We had even better food whenever his mother came from Malacca for a visit. Her cooking was indeed out of this world. Sukumari tries to reproduce it but it is not quite the same.

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Rajan, upon his transfer from the Malacca General Hospital, was in the surgery department of the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital, working with A M Ismail (now Tan Sri Majid Ismail) and Dr S M Alhady. From what I know, he was becoming a top surgeon himself. But circumstances and personal convictions changed the direction of his life.

He opted to become a general practitioner. He chose to be the people’s doctor. He set up practices in Jalan Loke Yew and Jinjang, catering more to the low-income people including me, since I did not have to pay him. He even took care of the health of my whole family and at no time would he take any payment.

Rajakumar took no money from me and he took very little from his other patients. He could have made millions but he chose to be poor himself. He took great delight and satisfaction in treating the people who could not afford to go to more expensive clinics. His interest in the health of the poor led him to devote a lot of time to help the government in planning rural health services.

He could have built a mansion for himself and his family but decided to live modestly. In fact, he never had a house to his name.

20-year-old suit

He had a consummate interest in education. He was upset that those with the power to transform the local education system displayed their lack of interest in bettering the school system by sending their children overseas.

For several years, he served on the Council of the University of Malaya. He and the late Tan Sri Tan Chee Khoon were elected and re-elected by the Guild of Graduates. I had the honour and privilege to be elected with them for a couple of terms. Rajakumar would not fail to attend any meeting of the Council or the committees on which he sat. He took great interest not only in the faculty of medicine but the entire university. His comments and advice in many ways shaped the university. If he had had it all his way, the university would have become the foremost university in the region.

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Rajan was not only interested in education for others. He was equally interested in educating himself. He kept up his reading of medical books and journals. More importantly, his reading covered the whole gamut of knowledge. He read books on philosophy, religion, politics, economics, sociology, music and the arts and, of course, novels. He was a man who could carry on a conversation or discussion with any notable in any field.

I would like to relate to you another incident. Sometime in the 1970s, her majesty, the Permaisuri Agong, became the Chancellor of the University of Malaya, succeeding Tunku Abdul Rahman. The University of Malaya Graduates Society decided to honour the occasion by having a grand dinner with the new Chancellor as the guest of honor. Rajakumar was Vice-President of the Society and he worked hard for the dinner.

That night, the committee members all dressed very well and sat at the main table with the Queen. The men had dark suits on, so had Rajakumar. The difference was that we had fairly recently-made suits, while Rajakumar’s suit appeared to have been tailored some 20 years earlier. The difference must have been obvious to everybody, but it did not seem to bother him at all. It did not bother him in the least to be sitting by the queen in those raiment. Such was the man! Some other person would at least have rented a suit, but not Rajakumar. It’s not the clothes that maketh the man! There he was carrying on a conversation with the First Lady of the land, clad in a suit some 20 years old.

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Rajakumar’s life was driven by service to others without regard to what he might gain in return. He regarded his many contributions in health care at the individual, national and international levels as merely doing his job. He was oblivious to the accolades he received from important people and organisations.

Rajakumar was one of those rare people who lived up to his own high ethical principles, sometimes at the expense of those most dear to him. He held true to his socialist principles to the end of his life. He was totally incorruptible.

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