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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 123-125

In memoriam: Professor Rakesh Tandon (1941–2020) - A man with a golden heart

Department of Gastroenterology, AIIMS, New Delhi, India

Date of Submission13-Oct-2020
Date of Decision13-Oct-2020
Date of Acceptance16-Oct-2020
Date of Web Publication15-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Pramod Garg
Department of Gastroenterology, AIIMS, New Delhi
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/JME.JME_174_20

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How to cite this article:
Garg P. In memoriam: Professor Rakesh Tandon (1941–2020) - A man with a golden heart. J Med Evid 2020;1:123-5

How to cite this URL:
Garg P. In memoriam: Professor Rakesh Tandon (1941–2020) - A man with a golden heart. J Med Evid [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Aug 7];1:123-5. Available from: http://www.journaljme.org/text.asp?2020/1/2/123/303563

Professor Rakesh Tandon, our respected teacher, revered mentor and an acclaimed gastroenterologist, undertook his final journey on the morning of 3 August 2020 while returning home from his customary morning walk. The grief was palpable and the mood was sombre, during the memorial service where hundreds of his friends, mentees and family members joined to pay their last respects. Even the eyes of experienced doctors who face death every day turned misty while paying homage and tribute to this noble soul.

Regardless of individual belief, doctors and scientists have a remarkable ability to transcend science and spirituality. One remembers that yet unseen Supreme power during the moments of personal grief, for science, does not provide solace. That comes from the realisation of the eternal truth that body is mortal. The sentiments expressed during the service portrayed the celebration of a life lived fully and happily.

Prof Tandon was born on 1 April 1941 in Allahabad in a well-known family of academicians. His parents were professors in Allahabad University, and they instilled in him the values of knowledge and honour. He obtained his medical education at the prestigious King George's Medical College, Lucknow, in the 1960s, under the able mentorship of Prof SS Mishra. The thriving academic environment inculcated in him the early signs of interest in research what would later became his lifelong passion. He won a gold medal for the best MD thesis. He went to Rhode Island, Providence, R. I., USA, for his residency in internal medicine followed by a gastrointestinal (GI) fellowship. He was appointed as a clinical-research fellow in gastroenterology and then a lecturer in medicine at Albany Medical College, New York, USA, in 1970. He returned to India to serve his country. His grandfather, Late Purushottam Das Tandon, who was conferred with the highest civilian award 'Bharat Ratna', had a significant influence on him because Prof Tandon devoted his life in the care of the poor and the needy.

Prof Tandon was an ardent researcher which led him to do his PhD in 1977, a rare combination of MD, PhD, in that era. His early research work was with JB Rodgers at Albany on basic GI physiology of bile, lipid digestion and fatty acids, which he deciphered in rat models. His research in India focused on general GI and liver diseases in the 1970s and the early 1980s, at a time when research in GI diseases was in its infancy. He made seminal contributions in diseases such as bile lithogenicity and pathophysiology of gallstones, veno-occlusive disease and tuberculosis. He was an early enthusiast of therapeutic endoscopy and was among the pioneers who promoted endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography in the mid-1980s along with Prof Jang Dilawari when it was in its nascent stage in the country. He published an original paper in 1979 on the role of emergency endoscopy in the management of acute upper GI haemorrhage, a topic that remains relevant even today. He was elegance personified when performing endoscopy.

In a career spanning over 50 years of dedicated service, Prof Tandon contributed immensely to the development and growth of gastroenterology in India. He was amongst the initial stalwarts in the 1970s who worked hard to develop training in gastroenterology and helped Prof BN Tandon in starting a GI fellowship training programme at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, which became a world-class GI training centre in India. He led the department of GI at AIIMS as its chief from 1991 to 2002, to make it the country's best department. His leadership style was gentle and democratic. He encouraged and helped his junior colleagues to develop and excel in their own chosen fields rather than imposing his will. Training was his forte. He had a great ability to enthuse and influence his mentees and instil in them a sense of purpose to pursue academic medicine. Many of his students are occupying top positions in the country. Prof Subrat Acharya offered his tribute by saying, 'I probably had one of the longest associations with him first as a student and later as a colleague. He was a friend, philosopher and guide who had tremendous influence on me'. Prof Goudas Choudhuri, one of his dear mentees, said in a voice filled with emotions, 'We all wanted to emulate him in style and substance'. Others echoed the same sentiments, an ultimate tribute to a great mentor.

He had a special love for pancreatology and promoted it in multiple ways. His interest in pancreatobiliary diseases flourished when he returned to the USA in 1989 for a year, as a visiting professor at Brigham's in Boston. He established the Indian Pancreas Club (IPC) and was its founding president. He organised its first international meeting in 2005. He served as a councillor of the International Association of Pancreatology (IAP) and organised along with H Ramesh a hugely successful joint conference of IAP with IPC in 2012 in Kochi, India. He was a great supporter of education and research in pancreas. He was a councillor of Asia-Oceania Pancreas Association and actively promoted pancreatology in the Asia-Pacific region. His original work on chronic pancreatitis – its pathophysiology, epidemiology and treatment – has been widely recognised. His work on pancreatic necrosis and organ failure in acute pancreatitis contributed significantly to the understanding of this complex disease. He was the architect of the Asia-Pacific consensus guidelines on chronic pancreatitis which have been extensively cited.

Prof Tandon published over 300 research papers, many of them in leading journals, including The Lancet, Gastroenterology and Gut. He remained productive till the very end and even completed a manuscript a few weeks prior to his sad demise.

Prof Tandon was the face of Indian GI in the world. He made friends easily and would count stalwarts such as Mervin Sleisenger, Peter Banks, Raj Goyal, David Car-Locke, Ashok Saluja, Masao Tanaka, Michael Farthing and Geoff Farrel, among his friends and supporters besides many others. He was among the top influential leaders in the Asia-Pacific region. He served as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology for 6 years and was a trustee of the JGH foundation. His contribution and international stature were recognised by the World Gastroenterology Organisation (WGO) when it conferred upon him the honour of 'Master of WGO'. He was thus a regular invitee to give lectures including multiple named orations at almost major GI and pancreas meetings around the world on account of his work and oratory skills.

In recognition of his immense contribution, he received numerous awards and honours which he richly deserved. Notable among them were the prestigious Dr. BC Roy Award of the Medical Council of India, Lifetime Achievement Award of the Indian Society of GI, Shakuntala Amir Chand Award of Indian Council of Medical Research, Lifetime Achievement Award of All India Institute of Medical Sciences and Lifetime Achievement Award of Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of India. He was elected the president of the 'Indian Society of Gastroenterology', the president of the 'IPC' and the president of 'Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition Society of Asia'. He was a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, a Humboldt Fellow and an elected fellow of two national science academies of India.

He was a workaholic, 'a karmyogi', and the word retirement was absent in his dictionary. A cardiac bypass at a relatively young age, rather than slowing him down, made his resolve stronger to work harder. He continued to work till his last days, as the chief of GI department at Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute, New Delhi, which he headed as a director also.

Nature painted his life with beautiful human qualities of love, empathy and altruism, which made him a great leader, a compassionate healer and an affectionate human being. He never tried to win an argument. He always thought good of others and did not keep any grudge against anyone. His ever-helping nature, smiling face and affable personality endeared him to his friends, patients and mentees. Prof MP Sharma, his closest associate and friend for five decades, expressed his deep affection for Prof Tandon and reminisced, 'He was always very helpful and we worked as a team. We never had any differences over such a long period'. His another friend, Prof NK Mehra said, 'He was an ever-smiling senior colleague with a golden heart. Our families enjoyed many happy moments together'.

He was my guru, revered teacher and mentor in every respect. He taught me the science and art of medicine and research, and gave me valuable lessons in the virtues of life. I owe whatever little I have achieved to his teaching, guidance and help at every stage of my career. I bow and pay sincere respect and regards to him. I will miss him dearly.

Prof Tandon is survived by his wife, Dr Manjula Tandon, a physician and his lifelong love and strong support, and two children. His son Manish is an assistant professor in medicine at Tufts University Medical Center, a clinical instructor at Harvard Medical School and a gastroenterologist at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center, USA. His daughter, Richa, is an assistant professor in medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and the Division Chief of Infectious Diseases at Roger Williams Medical Center in Rhode Island, USA, both carrying on their father's legacy of the noble profession of medicine.

To sum up his life and personality, Prof Tandon had a pure heart and a kind soul. He loved and lived academic medicine, a legacy which, I am confident, his mentees would carry on as a genuine tribute to him.


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