Dr. Vahia was an astute clinician, a great teacher and a gifted research worker. He had immense clinical understanding and his humility demonstrated the fact that there was more to psychiatry than chemical formulae and crunching numbers and applying statistics.
Most medical lectures are dull affairs where a lot of unnecessary information is imparted to a class full of students, half of whom are asleep while the other half is in a state of advanced catalepsy. Dr. Vahia’s lectures were very different. They were exciting and informative. He had a way of inducing a state of heightened awareness with words. He made your brain work overtime. He created a need to know. Anybody can give a lecture. But to make students think, to make them want to know – that is a different matter altogether, and Dr. Vahia could do this admirably.
Dr. Vahia had a beautiful mind. The research he did was creative and original. After studying at the Bellevue Hospital in New York, he started the psychiatry department at K. E. M. Hospital in 1947. At that time, there wasn’t much that you could do for the patients. Most of them were semi-literate and belonged to the lower socio-economic class. The two principle treatments were electroconvulsive therapy for the psychosis and psychoanalytical therapy for the neurosis. Chlorpromazine was not available till 1956-57. Dr. Vahia soon realised that analytical treatment did not make sense in the prevailing conditions. In therapy sessions, he would listen to the patient. At the end of the session, the patient would say “Doctor when are you going to start my treatment”?
Dr. Vahia had been toying with the idea of applying an ancient indigenous method for the treatment of psychophysiological and neurotic disorders which was centuries old, and which was popularly known as ‘YOGA’. A unit for research in Yoga was established in the department. The research findings were published, 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10 and generated great deal of interest. Indian Psychiatric Society awarded the Sandoz Research Award to the research paper in 1947.
Dr. Vahia was liked by everyone. He had a sense of humour. He refused to take himself seriously. He was ever ready to listen to somebody viewpoint which was different, no matter how absurd. He gave equal opportunity and encouraged his juniors and took great pride in their accomplishments. He was a real “Guru” in every sense of the word and left indelible footprints on the sands of time.
Dr Dinshaw R. Doongaji.
(Retd) Professor and Head,
Department of Psychiatry And Associate,
Department of Clinical Pharmacology
E. M. Hospital and G. S. Medical College, Mumbai
- Vahia N.S., Vinekar S.L., Doongaji D.R.: Some Ancient Indian Concepts in the Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders. Brit.J.Psychiat. (1966) 112 1080-1096.
- Vahia N.S., Doongaji D.R., Deshmukh D.K., Vinekar S.L., Parekh H.C., Kapoor S.N.: A therapy based upon some concepts prevalent in India. (1969) International Mental Health Newsletter. XI / 4 pp 4,14-16
- Vahia N.S. (1969): A therapy based upon some concepts prevalent in India. Indian J Psychiat 11, 7-14.
- Vahia N.S., Doongaji D.R., Deshmukh D.K., Vinekar S.L., Parekh H.C., Kapoor S.N.: A deconditioning therapy based upon concepts of Patanjali. (1972 ), International J Social Psychiatry. 18/1,
- Vahia N.S., Doongaji D. R., Jeste D.V., Ravindranath S., Kapoor S.N., Ardhapurkar I. (1973). Psychophysiologic therapy based on the concepts of Patanjali. (1973) A new approach to the treatment of neurotic and psychosomatic disorders. Am,J Psychotherapy, XXVII / 4, 557-565
- Vahia N.S., Doongaji D. R., Jeste D.V., Kapoor S.N., Ardhapurkar I., Ravindranath S.:(1973). Further experience with the therapy based upon concepts of Patanjali in the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Indian J Psychiat. 15, 32-37.
- BalkrishnaV., Sanghavi L.D., Rana K., Doongaji D.R., Vahia N.S.: The comparison of Psychophysiological therapy with drug therapy. Indian J Psychiat. (1977) 19/2 87-91.
- Weiss M.G., Sharma S.D., Gaur R.K., Sharma J.S., Desai A., Doongaji D.R.: Traditional concepts of mental disorder among Indian psychiatric patients: Preliminary report of work in Progress. (1986). Soc. Sci. Med. 23/4 379-386.
- Vahia N.S., Doongaji D.R. (1976) Yoga
“The Dr N. S. Vahia Foundation is one of the most meaningful and impactful means of celebrating Dr Vahia’s life and accomplishments. I feel deeply honoured to be associated with it.”
I have had the privilege and honour of working with Dr, Vahia for six years- a mentor who changed my life forever. He didn’t teach me just psychiatry and research, but he taught me much more than that – he showed me and other trainees and colleagues how to be a caring leader who brings out the best in others. Dr, Vahia was the most generous person I have ever known. He would treat the “ward boys” and other staff as well as junior most trainees with the same respect that he showed for the Dean and other leaders at GS.
He was unique in so many ways. He was brilliant, kind, innovative, humble, productive, compassionate, visionary, scholarly, creative, pioneering. We see people who exemplify one or two of these traits, but you meet a person like Dr Vahia who combines all of them once in a lifetime – if you are lucky.
I first met Dr. Vahia at GS Medical College in Mumbai which had the best Psychiatry Department. Dr. Vahia was the Departmental Chair. I was astonished to see how warm and welcoming he was and even offered me a position as a locum houseman even though I was an outsider and came from Pune. I never had to worry about a position at GS ever since.
Two things that struck me most in my early months and years of training with Dr. Vahia were his respect for others and his passion for research. Dr. Vahia’s passion for research was ingrained –He would spend several hours at GS, including the library, reading the most recent issues of international journals that were available. He was a voracious reader of scientific journals and books and impressed on us the need to read the scientific literature. He always asked us to understand the most recent papers published on any “interesting” patient we had seen. And for him, every patient was “interesting” in that we could learn something new from him or her. He would ask us to discuss during the next OPD clinic the paper we had read. Even in the US, I have not seen such a research-intensive psychiatry residency training program anywhere.
I learned the ABC’s of research from Dr. Vahia. I was a co-author on two papers by Dr. Vahia on “Psychophysiological therapy based on the concepts of Patanjali: A new approach to the treatment of neurotic and psychosomatic disorders” published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy and the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 1973 (1 and 2). When I look back at this research, I feel in awe of Dr. Vahia’s pioneering vision. Decades before yoga became a popular term in the western world and before anyone thought of conducting randomised controlled trials of yoga therapy, here was Dr Vahia conducting a long-term intervention, measuring effects of this type of treatment on mental as well as physical (e.g., blood pressure) health outcomes in patients with psychiatric as well as the so-called psychosomatic disorders (such as hypertension).
Think about this – a clinically super-busy Chair of a relatively small department of a specialty that is marginalized even today, working in a developing country which was not known for medical (let alone psychiatric) research at the time, and with little government or private funding, was publishing empirical data on yoga therapy in international peer-reviewed journals. Wow!
Another impressive aspect of Dr Vahia’s research was his eagerness to improve his research knowledge by enlisting and working with other experts. Today the emphasis at all high places of research in the west is on team research. Dr Vahia practised it nearly half a century ago in an improbable setting.
It was Dr Vahia’s inspiration and role model that stimulated me to migrate to the US in 1974 to pursue a research career. To this day, I am not sure what I would be doing if I had not met Dr Vahia. As important as research was, though, it was his personal style of developing a family of colleagues, trainees, and staff that I find remarkable. While it is impossible to create a milieu that Dr Vahia did, for me it is an ideal that I have sought to imitate to the best of my limited ability.
A tribute to Dr Vahia cannot be complete without talking about his own nuclear family. Mrs Vahia was everyone’s (especially all the trainees’) mother par excellence. She balanced Dr Vahia’s vision with pragmatics, but always in the most compassionate manner possible. For me, a matter of pride is that I have been fortunate to have co-authored papers will three generations of Vahias – all of them most eminent psychiatrists (1–12). Vihang was a medical student while I was at GS. Today he is one of the psychiatric leaders not just in India but internationally (5-7). He is also one of the finest teachers and speakers I have seen. Finally, Ipsit was my research fellow and is now on the faculty at Harvard. Ipsit’s ability to learn new things quickly and creatively is phenomenal (8-12). His research on technology in psychiatry is pushing the envelope in our field. His future is very bright.
The Dr N. S. Vahia Foundation is one of the most meaningful and impactful means of celebrating Dr Vahia’s life and accomplishments. I feel deeply honoured to be associated with it. Under Vihang’s leadership, the N. S. Vahia Foundation is already doing magnificent work, especially in training and education in psychiatry. I hope and expect that it will only grow exponentially in the years ahead.Besides being an undergraduate and postgraduate medical teacher, he was a visiting faculty at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He was an examiner for M.D. and D.P.M. examinations of the University of Mumbai and elsewhere in the country that include Poona, Gujarat, Lucknow and Delhi Universities and at AIIMS, Delhi. Articles authored by Dr. N. S. Vahia have been published in several Indian and international indexed journals. His articles on Transcultural Psychiatry, Hindu Concepts in Psychological Medicine, Patanjali’s principles of
Yoga, and the article titled Twenty-Five Years of Psychiatry in General Hospital are quoted as important global mile stones of psychiatry. He contributed chapters in several text books that include the API textbook of medicine, New Dimensions in Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine and Encyclopedic Handbook of Medical Psychology.
Countless honors were bestowed upon him. He was a modest man. He did not reveal many of such honors even to his nearest and the dearest. He was President of the Indian Psychiatric Society for the year 1964-65. He has the rare distinction of having been the President of the Neurological Society of India for the year 1965-66. He held multiple posts in the academic activities and committees of the University of Mumbai. He had been an active member of the Mental Health Advisory Committee of the Government of India, Indian Council of Medical Research and NIMHANS, Bangalore. His outstanding achievements in the field of Psychiatry and his personal charisma reflect in he being invited to be the Founder Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Overseas Member of the American Psychiatric Association and Member of the Board of Advisors to American Biological Institute. At the national level, he was the Fellow of Indian Psychiatric Society, Neurological Society of India and Indian Medical Association. His students remember him as a Great ‘Guru’ with a gentle soul and immeasurable treasure of knowledge and wisdom. He had never ending affection for his students and patients.
He was man of simplicity, dignity and humility. He never overshadowed others despite his wisdom and greatness that has set a trend for his students of follow.
A son was born at Mofussil place at Patan to a postmaster,
Intelligence, hard work, tenacity and perseverance he did muster.
His grandfather had a hand to educate him in medicine and prosper,
Humility, serenity, creativity, empathy and respect made in him a perfect cluster.
A thorough physician got flustered with symptoms without physical signs or a diagnosis,
Wondered and wandered in the medical field – ultimately found psychological medicine an oasis.
Travelled across seven seas to understand the human mind,
Restless and obsessive desire for an answer to find.
U.S. psychiatry showed the way for this Indian genius,
Returned to his alma mater to solve problems quite serious.
In setting up psychiatry in a general hospital, he became a pioneer,
Slowly and steadily he convinced his hardcore medically oriented peer.
At no time did he sound or appeared to be queer,
Totally assured was he to help his patients without any fear.
Solemn and dignified was his demeanour and outward appearance,
All considered him as a pinnacle of calm and patience.
A modern-day sage wearing a physician’s white coat,
Recent publications and research he could easily quote.
For dedicated work in fundamental yoga research, he received a lot of eulogies,
Showered with rare honour of being president of psychiatry and neurology.
In the limited field of OPD, wards and library he was always found,
In spite of honour and celebrity status, his feet remained firmly on the ground.
A teacher, mentor and father figure to generation after generation,
This guide and philosopher remains a long-standing lighthouse in the turbulent ocean
Dr. J.S. Apte. MD.
Retd Professor of Psychiatry, G.S. Medical College and K.E.M. Hospital, Mumbai
He was Dr. N.S.Vahia’s last ever postgraduate student.
Dr. Vahia was of one of the doyens of clinical psychiatry in India. He came on the Indian psychiatric scene and headed the Psychiatry Department at Seth G.S. Medical College and K.E.M. Hospital when psychiatry was in its nascent stage. A keen clinician and researcher, he helped establish a sound clinical and research base along with his junior colleagues at this institution. His works have been published in major international journals Source : (Vahia, 1959, 1963; Vahia et al., 1966, 1972, 1973, 1975). His strong commitment was to bring psychiatry into the mainstream of medicine, and to interact actively with colleagues from various other departments to remove their misconceptions and prejudices about the branch.
The major work for which he will be remembered in research was to understand and popularise Patanjali Yoga as a means of treatment in psychiatric disorders (Vahia et al., Source : 1966, 1972, 1973, 1975). It is but fitting that a theme monograph like this, which includes well-being as one of its thrust areas, should be dedicated to someone who has done much to incorporate Patanjali Yoga into medical practice.
However, the main reason why the vast majority of his contemporaries and juniors will remember him was the great compassion, sharp intellect and keen interest he retained right till the very end in various aspects of psychiatry. He was pleasantly approachable, and very communicative, although a man of few words. He loved writing back to those who sent him their writings, and he was quick to find merit in them, hardly ever indulging in decimating the works of others, which he could have probably done too.
I was fortunate to learn the ennobling and exalting aspects of this branch from every interaction I had with this benign patriarch of Indian psychiatry. His humility and patience were worthy of emulation. Just his presence in white added grace and warmth to any psychiatric function he chose to attend.
The torch of honest enquiry he has ignited in many who came in his wake in Indian psychiatry will also stand it in good stead as it marches forward resolutely in the 21st century.
I pray the guiding principles of his life and work live on through his countless admirers, and I am fortunate to count myself as one of them. I am sure Vihang, his son and fellow psychiatrist, a keen researcher-clinician in his own right, will be proud to carry forward his legacy.