Man For All Seasons
|He is a musician, a “certified’ clown and a ham. But what makes Satish Vyas special is the joie de vivre with which he lives his life. He decided to tap down professionally at the peak of his plastic surgery practice, because he thought there was more to life than just green bucks. He is a self taught sculptor and painter who designed his own house and did the decorations for his daughter’s wedding. He is a poet, who can recite beautiful odes to his 4-year-old grandson Roshan, the light of his life, and an paean to “roadeshwari the Indian buffalo” with the same panache.|
The eldest of nine children, Vyas was born in 1945 in a remote village in Madhya Pradesh. The child of an elementary school teacher, he had the privilege to sit anywhere from grade 1 to grade 6 in his one room school.
Perhaps because there was no physician in the village, 8-year old Vyas once signed off on one of his painting “Dr Satish Vyas MS, FRCS.” He could have used the skill. His eight fractures before he turned 16 were fixed by the village carpenter, who put a splint with a piece of wood and wrapped it up with a rack.
As his family was unable to afford to send him to college, Vyas persuaded a local bigwig to pay for his room and board in exchange for cooking for his son, who was headed to college. A merit scholarship a year later facilitated his entry into medical school. Of his Rs 100 ($2.20) monthly scholarship, half would go home to his parents for his siblings. “At school I would skip breakfast, because I couldn’t afford three meals and managed with lunch and dinner.” He says he learned he had topped his first year of medical school only after he read a 5-day-old newspaper wrapping in which someone had brought sweets.
A pediatric surgeon inspired Vyas to get into plastic surgery. “I would see severely deformed children brought to this physician and how he would transform the child.”
Although he says he was at the top of his class, Vyas was unable to land a job after medical school. “I went to Bhopal, didn’t have money to grease the palms of the chowkidar, but after three hours sweet talked my way to be allowed to meet the Secretary of Health. Walking into his office I said, ‘I have stood first all these years and I don’t have a job.’ The secretary said coldly, ‘Who told you to stand first?’ It was as if I had been slapped. I walked out without a word and said this is it, I’m going to America.”
After a residency in Detroit, Vyas established a private practice at the age of 34, but four years later decided to scale back his thriving practice to spend quality time with family and do the things he enjoyed.
One of them was to go twice a year to India and operate on the underprivileged in need of reconstructive surgery.
A man who doesn’t miss an opportunity to ham it up, on a trip to holy shrines Vyas, dressed in the garb of a swami, once took over from a blind singer and sat with a harmonium singing hymns and distributing mango drinks to the 300 odd people that gathered, until a man called out his name and introduced himself as a physicians who had attended one of Vyas’ medical seminars. Vyas’s uproarious laughter had given him away!
On a trip to Morocco, dressed as an Arab sheik, he was mistaken for Amitabh Bachchan because of his white beard and lanky frame. As the rumbles of “Amitabh Bachchan, Amitabh Bachchan grew,” playing to the gallery, Vyas purchased all the peanuts from a peanut seller and asked him to distribute them among his “fans.”
A trained magician, he attended a school for clowns. “When I told my kids I had joined clown school, my son Manish looked at me seriously, and asked ‘Papa are you taking classes or teaching classes there?”
Vyas is also an ace snow and water skier – on one leg; at the age of 33 one of his feet was paralyzed during a botched up surgery. “When I see a blind person climb Mt Everest, I realize a paralyzed foot is nothing to complain about.” Vyas says he is happy that cosmetic surgery is now no longer the privilege and preserve of Hollywood stars or taboo.
Vyas says while his work ethics has always been western, his family values are surely eastern. He was one of the rare fathers to be home when his kids return from school. Professionally, he says, one of the most gratifying moments in his life occurred when a third year medical student, Prakash Chandani, heard one of his lectures and was inspired to become one India’s leading plastic surgeons. “He wrote to me for 8 years and I finally met him when he invited me to be the chief guest at the opening of his clinic.”
Vyas says he believes in doing everything concurrently, and not leaving it to the future. “We put limitations on ourselves. Henry Ford said it aptly, ‘When you say I can do it and when you say I cannot do it, you are right both times.’ I am one of those who believe I can do anything I set my mind on.”