Dr Sukhdev Pershad Bhatia
03.12.1902 - 06.10.1988
retirement of Mexborough GP Dr S P Bhatia in the mid 1980s marked
the end of an era in the town which began with his arrival in 1931.
More than simply a well-loved medical practitioner, Dr Bhatia had at
his heart the care and nurturing of both the physical and spiritual
well-being of his patients.
His dedication to medicine, the town and Labour party were honoured
at a retirement dinner, and this is a verbatim transcript of that
evening, and a reminder of the great affection in which he was held.
I have great pleasure in welcoming every one of you here to this
representative gathering. We have assembled here today to grace a
momentous occasion - the retirement party for Dr. Bhatia, one of
Mexborough's illustrious and most-loved citizens.
Be it a colleague, young or old, from hospital service or general
practice; be it a patient, man woman or child, he is greatly
respected, and his name is a household one.
In this gathering here, we have a Member of Parliament, we have
bankers and businessmen, we have consultants, hospital doctors,
general practitioner, nurses, secretaries, para-medical personel,
friends and patients as well.
All of us here, and many hundreds of others who are not present here
this evening admire and appreciate his dedication and service to the
Many of us know that Dr.Bhatia is a tee-totaller, non-smoker and a
vegetarian. He is a man of peace - and he is at peace with himself.
His life has been exemplary and worthy of emulation.
It is a pity that the ageing process does not spare even the
doctors. In my consulting room - and outside - I'm often confronted
with the question "How is Dr.Bhatia now ?"; then, the follow-up
remark ssuch as - "He's a fine fellow" or "He's a wonderful man" or
"He's a dedicated man, he deserves a medal", and so on.
These are spontaneous outbursts of ordinary men and women, and one
notices in their tone the ring of plain-speaking honesty, and in
their eyes a glow which takes them back down memory lane of their
friendly, intimate association with Dr.Bhatia over the years.
In simple terms, they are just simply proud of him; proud of him
being their doctor, proud of him being their friend and proud of him
being the man whom they can go to in times of need.
I have had great pleasure and pride working with him for nearly nine
years. I admire his great capacity for work - his age was never a
barrier; he never made me feel my age either.
Dr.Bhatia is one of the few men I know to whom work and leisure
means the same.
His cultured, serene thoughts, packed with experience, have been
well worth listening to.
Ladies and gentleman, it is to this 'stethoscoped gentleman' and to
his loving and ever-supportive wife Ruby that we are assembled here
today to pay tribute for the contribution he has made towards the
health and tender care of the people of Mexborough, Swinton, Wath on
Dearne and Bolton on Dearne, and he has rendered it so gracefully
and so generously over the long, long span of 56 years. We salute
you, Dr. Bhatia.
Martin Redmond MP
When Dr. Agrawal phoned me to ask me to come here this evening I
accepted with great pleasure.
When we were on the local authority we used to have an officers'
group and we used to have what was known as the 'short straw', where
one had to sing for our supper; and there was always of course a
lack of volunteers, and we used to draw the names out of a hat as to
who would speak.
But the phone call that was made - I deemed it a great honour to be
here this evening, and after having accepted and put the phone down
I then started to have doubts about how I, as a humble person, could
pay tribute to Dr. Bhatia, because to be truthful, the service he
has done to this community, it really ought to be Her Majesty the
Queen here this evening.
When the doctor arrived in this country aged 24, I think
England's gain was India's loss, because he had intended to stop
only one year.
But nevertheless when he completed his training at St.Andrew's he
arrived in Mexborough in 1928 and spent 56 years to date here, and
of course the many services and involvements he has undertaken while
he's been here have been without any hesitations whatsoever.
He has totally immersed himself in the community.
And alongside that medical career has been mentioned that he is a
Christian - a lay-reader and Past President of the Sheffield
District Association of Unitarian Churches, and of course the
unselfish duty as a GP for Mexborough. And one can continue giving a
role of honour as it were to the numerous activities and involvement
that he has been involved in in Mexborough.
And of course, like every man in public life you require a wife who
is understanding and helpful, and Ruby has given him that support;
and if you don't get the support you obviously can't compete in
public life, because the wife of course is the backbone behind any
Ruby of course, to Dr.Bhatia, has been like that jewel in the crown,
and I thank you Ruby on behalf of the community for giving Dr.Bhatia
When I first met Dr.Bhatia in 1982 when we came to the annual
Mexborough Labour Party dinner, I was sat next to him and I wondered
who was this old lad who was a vegetarian, didn't smoke, and I got
talking to him. During the course of that dinner I was tremendously
impressed, and I made enquiries as to who this Dr.Bhatia was,
because I'm not a Mexborough lad - unlike Dr.Bhatia - and I found
out about his good record and so forth, and I had no hesitation
whatsoever of recommending to Doncaster Council that Dr.Bhatia
should be given the freedom of the Borough, and that was done on the
24th of October 1983, and I think that's recognition from Doncaster.
I do like an occasional cigarette, and as you know Dr.Bhatia is a
non-smoker, and I think he's the only person that's lectured me on
the smoking habit that I have been able to tolerate. But he put it
in sudh a way - he didn't succeed in stopping me smoking, but
nevertheless every time I see him I can see in his eyes 'you really
ought to stop'.
I do occasionally call and see them at their home and Dr.Bhatia
thinks I call to see him, and that's not quite true; I call to see
Dr. Bhatia and his good lady when I'm feeling a little bit depressed
because the sound quality, the philosophy that Dr.Bhatia has had all
his life is a source of inspiration to me and I come away refreshed,
recharged to continue the fight.
As I said, in 1931 Dr.Bhatia came to Mexborough, and those were hard
times then. And the wheel has turned full circle and we're now back
to that era where unemployment and poverty and despair face us
again. But I sincerely feel that Dr.Bhatia has equipped the people
of Mexborough to cope a little bit better with the problems that
face Mexborough. By word and deed throughout the years and
throughout the various generations that he's helped to bring into
the world, those people are better equipped in their minds to deal
with the problems facing them now.
He, without a doubt, will continue to inspire people for years to
And what touches me most - the hallmark of a civilized society is
the way it treats its people - the less fortunate, the less able in
And Dr.Bhatia, by word and deed has shown how civilized man ought to
behave. And that's why I look for the guidance and advice, because
while the body may be frail, the mind is very very active.
And I will conclude by saying that Dr. Bhatia has improved the
health of the community, and your service as a Lay Preacher has
improved their minds.
On behalf of all the people of Mexborough, thanks very much for
coming to Mexborough. You are now a citizen of Mexborough.
Well my friends, I do thank you for both of us, for inviting us here
this evening to share in this memorable occasion - Dr.Bhatia's
retirement. As a recently retired doctor from this area who after 25
years or so has made a very modest contribution to the medical scene
Mexborough, I really take my hat off to Dr.Bhatia, who for more than
twice that time - 55 years in fact - has dominated the medical scene
And it's interesting the changes he must have seen over these years;
it's interesting nowadays to think how wholistic medicine is such a
popular subject; treating all the patient - their mind, their body
and spirit. Dr.Bhatia's been doing it for 55 years: No problems at
He's the only doctor I know who can diagnose people without seeing
them, on the telephone. He has a special manner on the telephone -
time is not bothering him (it doesn't bother him at any other time
either). You just ring him up and he knows exactly what's the matter
with you; no problem at all. So really all the modern sophisticated
diagnostic equipment - he did very well without it, and still does.
During a recent trip to America one of the radio stations was doing
a current advertisement for Mount Sinai Hospital - you know they
have to advertise the hospitals and doctors, heavens knows why. And
this quite pleasant advertisement says "Today, a man in Holland is
walking the street because of a doctor in Mount Sinai Hospital. Come
to Mount Sinai Hospital: We have doctors for your chest, for your
tummy, for your nerves and so on.
And I thought which of us in this room could say we are walking the
street in Mexborough because of Dr.Bhatia. I should say, hands up
those who CAN'T say that !
He has brought so many people into the world who are here, or their
parents, and has cared for so many other people over the years, and
of course advertisement is quite unnecessary in his case.
His dedication and integrity immediately appeal to Yorkshire folk
who know a good thing when they see one.
And of course his name will live not only from the medical point of
view, because there's the Bhatia Centre, the Bhatia Close which will
be here for as long as we can foresee.
I well remember the first meeting with Dr.Bhatia at his previous
house at Rockleigh, an oasis of peace and tranquility in the hustle
of Mexborough, run so efficiently by Dev and by Ruby; full of
medicine and music and religion and art, and we were indebted as to
how welcome we were always made there.
He is a man of deep faith and religion whom we all admire. Some of
you, like me, might be a little uncertain about the difference
between faith and religion and perhaps I could point it out by a
little story of a car which was travelling in the Middle East
It ran out of petrol, but fortunately on this desert road they could
see this town about a mile away so the chap said well, afraid we'll
just have to walk to town and get some petrol and come back again.
So he looked in the car for a suitable recepticle for the petrol,
and all he could find was a baby's potty; so off he went, rather
self-consciously a mile or so to this nearby town, and got some
petrol. He was very glad he took it because they hadn't got any
cans, so back he came to the car with this potty full of petrol and
poured it with great difficulty into the filler cap.
And just as he was doing that, the very first car they'd seem came
along, and out stepped a very important looking Arab gentleman and
looked at him filling this car with the fluid from this potty and
said:" I don't know what your religion is - but I do admire your
Dr.Bhatia is of course himself a man of great humour, I always
remember his funny stories - especially the ones about the half-past
ten at night calls; he said you have to wait till the pubs close, at
around half past ten at night , people would call. And of course on
the telephone he'd know exactly what was the matter - what it was
was that the wife has had a headache for about three weeks , the
husband comes back from the pub ; "Ah, poor dear you've got a
headache, I must ring the doctor...".
We all wish Ruby and Dev the very best in their retirement, and one
little thing I must do , say about Dev (he tells this story as
well), is about his writing.
Writing of course is usually the means whereby Doctors keep patients
in ignorance about their condition; in Dr.Bhatia's case it's been
whereby he keeps everybody else in ignorance. And Ruby has said how
she's had cards from him on holiday, and has had to take them down
to the chemist's to see what he says .
And then when he's got back, she's shown the cards to him - and he
can't understand them either !
Well Dev, we wish you a very happy retirement.
Dr. and Mrs. Bhatia, it's my turn to say a few words; I'm a bit lost
for words. I don't think I can match the oratorial skills of our
distinguished guest speakers, or my colleague who introduced them in
However, I hope I shan't be lacking in expressing the sentiments and
regards we have for you Dr.Bhatia.
When the news of your retirement spread across Mexborough, everyone
that we came across kept mentioning 'when are you going to have a
party for him ?', `He's a grand old man, he deserves a medal".
The problem was not having a party per-se, but how to you have an
occasion to befit the man.
In fact I recall visiting a woman who was in agony with a slipped
disk, and in between her cries of pain she said `He's a legend
lifetime isn't he '; I said `I'll have to pack you off to hospital
We decided to have two guest speakers - one to represent the
afflicted, I mean the public, and the other to represent doctors:
The first one, we thought Mr.Redmond would be the ideal choice, and
when I tried to ring him it was an answering machine; I thought,
well he's never going to follow my Anglo-Indian Yorkshire accent, so
I asked my secretary to leave a message asking if he would ring me,
but she did not say what it was about.
Later on I went to a pub and had a pint of beer and was looking at
my Guardian newspaper - it was all about immigration problems and
demonstrations at Heathrow airport...and I thought Mr.Redmond might
not contact me - he might think `Oh, immigration problem again'.
However, he was very prompt indeed and rang me and said `Dr.Bhatia's
retirement party 1900 1930 the 11th of April - it's a pleasure '. I
was a bit lost for words then, I didn't know what else to say...
As far as out other distinguished guest speaker is concerned, he
hasn't even got over his jet lag yet , but here he is. I'm sure he
would have been here even if he would have had to fly across the
I want to mention about Dr.Bardun; I think he's trying to race
across Chesterfield to be here ;he has a long-standing prior
engagement there. Dr.Powell thinks nothing of coming all this way to
be here today; it's amazing what the mention of a name can do
Dr.Bhatia, I mean your name.
When we started off with the party, the Hospital Secretary said `For
Dr.Bhatia it's no problem you can have anything', the catering
manager said 'we will not let you down for Dr.Bhatia's party', and
the medical representatives, they wanted to be a part of it, they
wanted to partake in the occasion; our landlord, Ken Paling - I know
you're a tee-totaller Dr.Bhatia - he cut short his holiday from Las
Palmas to be here to run the bar for us.
On behalf of all the people here - your friends, colleagues- here
are the well wishes we have received ; and all this is a testimony
to the regard, love and affection we all have for you.
As a little token of our appreciation - that is from your partners
-we have procured a little present for you (an electric powered
wheelchair ). I hope it will carry you a long way ; from all your
other friends we managed to get an electric easyrise, we hope it
will be of use to you. May I ask Dr. Agarwal who has been the chief
organiser and the prime force behind organising the party to present
it to you on behalf of everybody.
Mr.Martin Redmond: Just a little retirement card that we asked the
Speaker of the House , Bernard Weatherall, to sign - and all the
Labour Shadow Cabinet have also signed it . Happy retirement
Dr.Bhatia, if you look at the programme it says that I'm the
Practice speaker - it means I'm trying to practise speaking... I'm
supposed to say a few words on behalf of our Practice, but the
spirit of the occasion has overcome me (not alcohol I) and I thought
the best thing would be to read the letter that we partners wrote to
you when we heard of your retirement:
Dear Dr.Bhatia, thank you for your letter informing us about your
retirement from the Practice from first April 87. We realise that it
must have been a heart-rending decision, but appreciate that with
your pragmatism you felt that it was the only decision you could
make in the best interests of the Practice and you.
We your partners would like to express our thanks and gratitude for
giving us an opportunity to work with you. It has been an honour and
You will be retiring from practice in name only ; you are a man
larger than life, a man of sagacity, perspicacity, foresight and
strength of character, a man of immense patience and time for one
The Practice has been, and always will be, Dr.Bhatia's Practice,
there may be offshoots here and there perhaps.
To all your patients you constituted and exemplified a family
doctor, a stethoscoped friend in need; a guide and philosopher for
your doctor colleagues and a doyen of general practice, setting the
standard and norms; we hope to try and emulate your example and
carry on the good work.
We hope that we may continue to have the opportunity of seeking your
counsel and advice from time to time.
We wish you, on behalf of everybody here a very happy retirement ,
and good health.
Ladies and gentleman, may I give you - Dr. Bhatia (prolonged
You won't blame me if I tell you that I am completely overwhelmed,
and almost rendered speechless. It has been a wonderful reception.
You have all made me feel so humble; I bow my head in humility.
I have been very fortunate in having had colleagues who have been
really marvellous. We have worked in perfect harmony. In fact, an
example to many practices. I don't remember ever listening to one
dissident note; you have been wonderful colleagues, and I sincerely
hope that they will go on serving the community through the medium
of General Practice for many many more years to come.
I think it will be hard to find a practice that has worked so
harmoniously together; they have spared no effort and no expense in
arranging this particular assembly. It has been a moving experience
I also pray God that they will be spared health, and have peace of
mind - those are the two essential things in life that have
sustained me; health - I thank God that he gave me health for 55
years to be able to serve the community and he also gave me peace of
mind. I don't remember ever losing my patience or rag, no matter how
busy I've been.
Now I hope and pray that they also will have health, which you can
see is the most important thing, and peace of mind, which is just as
important; that with these two gifts they will be able to serve the
community for many years to come - and perhaps beat my record, I
We have also been very fortunate in our receptionists; they have
worked loyally and devotedly and diligently. There has never been
any back-biting nor any friction between all our receptionists. If I
might mention the names of two - Marjorie and Margaret - who
presented us with these flowers. They came to me when I was
practising at Rockleigh , that's about 18 years ago - so they have
been very loyal companions,
receptionists and supporters in time of need. I hope that they will
continue to serve the practice also for many more years to come.
Now, I would like to thanks Dr. Nadaraj for all that he has said
about me. I hardly merited it: It makes me feel utterly humble. But
as I said, I am glad I was able to serve the community for so many
years. I thank also Martin and John; John and Anna have been friends
of ours ever since they came to Mexborough, and we thoroughly
enjoyed your friendship, your warm hospitality, your warmth, and I
sincerely hope that you will be able to visit us periodically.
Martin I have known also for a few years; his ambition has been that
he may be remembered as a loyal MP representing his constituency -
but there is no doubt that over the years he has represented us, he
has endeared himself to all his constituents. I can assure you that
he is generous to a fault, and he has been extremely generous to me,
and visited me on a number of occasions , and I appreciated it
because I know Martin, the demands on your time and energy are
I know this much also - that if any of his constituents approached
him with any reasonable problem he would tend to it sympathetically
The election may not be far off - I don't know when because Mrs.
Thatcher hasn't consulted me. If she did, I'd tell her `You always
have your own way, you might as well decide the date yourself..";
but whenever it comes, I know this much, Martin, you will be
re-elected with the thumping majority that you merited.
Now I came to Mexborough as a boy in 1930, and as Martin pointed out
the conditions were very appalling. There was a great deal of
unemployment, there were slums here - some of you might remember
Charles Street, Gentlemen's Row, Sarah Street, Orchard Street - I
could go on numerating the slums that were here.
And to conduct confinements under those dismal, dratted conditions
was not a joke, but however, we managed it. In those days by the way
there was no midwife; they had a woman - who ever had had three or
four children she was considered to be the expert in midwifery. But
conditions were really appalling.
There was also, if I may mention, only one District Nurse for the
whole of Mexborough and she used to cycle, and naturally one did not
like to impose too much burden on her and therefore dressings and
injections one had to do quite a lot one's-self so the poor girl
wouldn't be over-burdened with work.
But - and I say but - in all sincerity that in spite of the
appalling conditions, slums, unemployment, poverty and so on there
was a great deal of warmth. There was a neighbourliness,
friendliness - it was really heart-warming.
Roman Terrace, where I spent most of my professional life was one
large family and I found myself as a very integral part of that
family. It was a joy working amongst them.
Curiously enough, Mexborough was a very rich town culturally; there
was an orchestra here - I still remember Mr.Williams was the
conductor of Barnburgh Main Orchestra ; he once obliged me to come
to a concert in aid of an earthquake, and he very kindly brought his
orchestra. There was a Male Voice Choir, female choir, debating
society, Truth Society, WEA classes , there was an Amateur Dramatic
Society , there was the Operatic Society - they still function you
know - and one took part in as many cultural activities as one
It was indeed a great contrast from its outward appearance and its
cultural heritage , and you may be interested to know that there
were quite a few eminent people who came from Mexborough; the Poet
Laureate, Ted Hughes, came from Mexborough Main Street, they had a
Newsagent's shop and I used to attend them.
So, Mexborough had its redeeming features.
Now, Montagu Hospital was a cottage hospital. There was only one
house physician-cum-house surgeon; all the specialities weren't
catered for. The very first consultant physician appointed was, I
believe, in 1931 or 1932. He was a Junior Consultant at Sheffield
Royal Infirmary and then subsequently he became Professor of
Medicine at Manchester Medical College. And he became also President
of the General Medical Council. He was Knighted, and then he got
promoted to the House of Lords. I knew him very well indeed, in fact
we struck up a friendship in those early years.
And now, of course, the hospital is expanding rapidly, when all the
alterations are completed, no doubt it will be a very important
institution in this part of Yorkshire.
Now I don't want to say a great deal more except this; that I was
forced to retire. I did not mean to retire, but after my stroke last
year it was a very painful decision. I still hoped against hope that
I might regain sufficient mobility to be able to do part-time work.
But it was not to be...
It was after a great deal of heart-searching and cogitation and
anguish that I arrived at the decision that it is time to relinquish
my hand in General Practice.
I am thankful to all who have helped me during my illness; District
Nurses have been wonderful, the other nurses have been wonderful -
my grateful thanks.
And of course I must say my wife and daughter have been towers of
strength to me and they have given me great moral support.
It is a very grievous thing for me that I should be dependent on so
many people just to preserve and prolong this mortal flesh, but
is. I am grateful to them.
I don't want to say a great deal more except to quote the words of
celebrated well-known Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore:
In one salutation to thee, my God, let all my senses spread out and
touch this world at they feet.
Like a rain-cloud of July hung low with its burden of unshed showers
let all my mind bend down at thy door
in one salutation to thee.
Let all my songs gather together their diverse strains into a single
current and flow to a sea of silence in one salutation to thee.
Like a flock of homesick cranes flying night and day back to their
mountain nests let all my life take its voyage to its eternal home
in one salutation to thee.
I thank you all.
But there are just two words that I want you to remember me by. Just
two words. He loved.
Thank you all; may God bless you.
There then followed a standing ovation of affectionate warmth and
appreciation - a fitting end to a moving and much-deserved tribute
to a great man.