BOMBAY TO BICHOLIM AND BACK, DR SHEKHAR SALKAR’S JOURNEY IS INSPIRATIONAL
Oncologist Dr Shekhar Salkar is not a new name in Goa’s medical field. He is also known for his penchant for the game of Cricket. His journey is inspiration for those who want to make a career in Goa without crossing the borders forever.
One quality that makes Dr Shekhar Salkar different from the rest of medical practitioners is his style of dealing with the patients. Known for his ever smiling face and humour even while dealing with the most difficult cases, Salkar has been the face of the profession in the state.
“I never had the confidence that I will become a doctor but my mother was very much interested in making me a medical professional,” Salkar says with a smile recalling that even during his childhood, the toys were that of a doctor including a dummy stethoscope.
“I was not very intelligent also to get high marks but somehow I managed to get good marks to enter this stream. When I was in 12th my mother suffered from cancer and unfortunately she died in six months. She was not there to witness my success.”
Salkar says, “I think it was in my destiny to become a doctor that is why I became a doctor but to become a cancer surgeon was my own choice. When I went to see my mother in Tata Memorial Hospital, the site of stalwarts like Dr Prafull Desai, Dr M R Kamat impressed me a lot. That time I was not sure if I would enter the medical field.”
“Many people aspire something but they can’t get it. I was very lucky. I was lucky also because I was born in a family which was well to do. There was always an encouragement to study. We were pampered a lot and childhood was ultimate.”
“We belong to the best generation. We have seen best of yesteryears and also the new things which are coming up right now including mobile phones, YouTube, Google etc. I have also heard Cricket commentary on radio. During 1982 when Asiad was hosted, television was brought in our home. We were listening to commentary while studying.”
“Ours was a big family. We were seven of us. We call ourselves as seven Salkars.”
When asked why he did not preferred to continue with his family business, Salkar concedes “I am very bad in bargaining. Somehow I never had an inclination towards it. Today I feel that if I was not a doctor, I don’t know what I would have been. I am bad in recovering the dues.”
“My father and uncle owned Gomantak soap factory. They were doing very well. Sometimes I used to go for sale with my father on his vehicle but it was just an excuse to go to my grandparents’ place at Curchorem. It was amazing,” recalls Salkar.
When asked about childhood, Salkar turns nostalgic remembering the time when he went to ‘balwadi’. “We had a fantastic life. Even right from childhood, I was the most notorious kid,” revealed Salkar.
Bicholim was a very small town that time. Salkar who has been nationally famed as leading oncologist says that he will never discontinue his roots with Bicholim. “I don’t like staying in a flat and city culture. I am comfortable at my home,” he said.
“It is my ego actually. I am very egoistic about the fact that people from across the state will come to meet me in the evening at Mardolkar Hospital at Bicholim. I have been practicing at Bicholim in the evening. That is like a big thing because when you belong to a small town, you are always proud of it,” says Salkar.
“I did my MS from Tata Hospital. After passing the MBBS I was not getting admission in surgery or medicine, so I was doing diploma in paediatric. One day one of my professors asked me to apply in Mumbai, so I applied everywhere including Tata Hospital.”
With broad smile, Salkar remembers a day when he was heading to Mumbai to answer the interview. “I took the bus and went to Mumbai and stayed at Ajit Kadkade’s home (singer). He took me to a senior scientist Chitnis, who eventually knew M R Kamat,” Salkar said, adding that then he got registered for MS in Tata hospital.
Salkar had to work for one and half year outside Tata Hospital. “That time Sion hospital was like an asylum for Goans. I had a cousin who helped me to work there on a temporary basis,” he said.
The oncologist recalls that the most difficult days of his life were the first 15 days at Sion hospital. “There we were not able to sleep for almost 48 hours. The nurses did not help even to collect the blood samples. I could not work and I was issued memo and warning. That was the time when I contacted my brother Vallabh back home, who asked me to come back home on a weekend. When I was back, I told my brother about my difficulty. He gave me 12 cashew packets and 12 feni bottles. On returning to Mumbai, I gave the feni bottles to one of my seniors who used to like drinking feni and I distributed 12 packets of cashew to the nurses. This plan worked very well,” Salkar remembers. “My life became much easier after that. I then started conducting operations. That made a big difference. I was earning Rs 1,200 a monthly salary. We used to spend our Sundays at the residence of Ajit Kadkade. Two more of our friends used to join us. One was Apa Teli who was engineer in Air India and Sanjiv Kadkade who was in catering college. We used to roam Mumbai on Saturday and Sundays. That stopped us from feeling home sick.”
I worked for one year in Sion Hospital. I did senior residency there which gave me maximum confidence to operate. Sion Hospital was known for trauma. All the highway accidents were being referred to Sion Hospital. We used to do eight hours of duty.
Salkar recalls how Bhivandi riots gave him the most challenging time as a medical practitioner during which he worked with minimum resources. “Nothing could match the challenge there. We could see all kinds of casualties,” he said.
Salkar then shifted to Sushruya Hospital. Salkar recalls working with Dr Nandu Lad who was famous for operating former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Salkar said that he used to get work under the top surgeons and gained a lot of experience.
“All the current ‘A’ level surgeons in Mumbai were my teachers. I got junior residency and that was a life changer. Then I wanted to be a cardiac surgeon,” said Salkar.
“There were opportunities everywhere including JJ hospital, Nair hospital except KEM. But my dream was to join KEM hospital.”
“Somehow I had craze for KEM. When I was going through this situation, suddenly senior residency in Tata Hospital was announced and I got through there.”
In the year 1990 when Salkar completed the residency, he took the bus and rushed back to Goa.
“The biggest compliment was from my boss Pradhan who said that he wanted to make a cassette of my journey when I landed in Mumbai and when I left from there. He told me that you will be very successful as a doctor because of my style of talking with the patients and dealing with them,” Salkar said.
When he left from there, Salkar carried endoscope from there which was being introduced for the first time.
The most important phase of Salkar’s life was when he returned back. His father firmly believe that looking at his age, no one would trust conducting an operation from him. “I went to GMC seeking to join there but they told me that there was no vacancy. Then I started my private practice. The first cancer operation that I conducted was on my uncle who had male breast cancer. I operated on him at Salgaoncar Medical Research Centre in Vasco. He survived for 15-20 years,” recalled Salkar.
Salkar feels that he is thankful to few doctors like Dr Sham Bhandari who had confidence in him. Also Dr Raut Desai and Dr Pradip Dhungat who helped him to start.
He is now chief of clinical services at Manipal Hospital, Dona Paula.
Salkar also represented the state in Cricket, which he perceived as a hobby. Salkar is also a member of the Lions Club and is heading the National Organisation for Tobacco Eradication. He has also been Goa unit president of Association of Surgeons of India, Indian Medical Council.