Celebrating Dr Noshir H Antia
I am deeply saddened that Dr Antia has passed away. I had an extremely warm and friendly relationship with him, for he was unique. He was difficult but accessible and, above all, lovable.
Dr Antia was on the selection committee to recruit me into Jawaharlal Nehru University. A few years ago he invited me to spend some time with the Foundation for Research in Community Health in Pune. What impressed me was the amount of kind time he gave his research assistants. He made me join these meetings and I learnt a lot from them, above all patience and empathy. It was also evident that he had no time for idiotic ideas of bureaucracy. He could be sharp tempered with those who wielded power, however small, unwisely.
During my visit to FRCH he organised a lecture in Pune University for me and invited me home for a drink and a wonderful dinner. I’ll never forget the chicken with saag, and the two stories he told me. One was about how he convinced authorities of the hospital where he worked as a plastic surgeon that air-conditioning was spreading infection among his patients. The second was about how difficult a time he had with the same authorities to permit him to use papaya skin on burns patients. Apparently this was also hugely successful. He was telling me, I suppose, that it’s worth talking to people to convince them, rather than dismissing them as enemies. He was also telling me to look towards our own traditions, although I was skeptical about the manner in which he romanticised “our” traditions. Whose traditions were these? Of the dalits or upper castes? He had no such questions and dismissed mine.
Dr Antia was on the committee that recommended the establishment of the Centre for Social Medicine and Community Health when JNU was being established. The reasoning was simple: departments of preventive and social medicine were wedded to hospitals and had therefore been crippled at birth: public health was about how a society decides to use its resources. He was also opposed to what has now fructified as the Public Health Foundation of India.
I shall grieve for this loss but also celebrate him, for he enriched me in so many ways. He was a teacher who also taught me how to teach.