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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 36  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 368-369

Prof. B. S. Chavan – A life well lived

Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India

Date of Submission14-Dec-2020
Date of Acceptance14-Dec-2020
Date of Web Publication31-Dec-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Debasish Basu
Department of Psychiatry, Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh - 160 012
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_444_20

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How to cite this article:
Basu D. Prof. B. S. Chavan – A life well lived. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36:368-9

How to cite this URL:
Basu D. Prof. B. S. Chavan – A life well lived. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Jan 16];36:368-9. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2020/36/4/368/305951

We must embrace pain and use it as fuel for our journey.

— Kenji Miyazawa

What is a life well lived?

This may not be the best way to start a customary obituary. An obituary is a somber piece: a piece of sorrow, of remembrance, of respect, of condolence, of loss, and of mourning. However, as I pensively look at Prof. Chavan's life and recall the memories of the man as I knew him for more than 33 years, I feel reasonably sure he himself wouldn't have liked his obituary written like that. He was a man full of life and a life well lived. It is a time to reflect on what he did, not what he could have done further, or how untimely his death was.

Prof. Bir Singh Chavan died in harness when he was all of 59 years, 8 months, and 11 days, due to cancer-related complications. He was a man in a hurry. He kept on working, almost maniacally, through his chemotherapy, surgery, and palliative care. He died in harness because at the time of his death; he was still donning the hats of nearly a dozen administrative or academic positions, including the Director Principal of the Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Chandigarh; Head, Department of Psychiatry and Department of Human Genetics; Director, Mental Health Institute and Centre of Excellence; Director, Government Rehabilitation Institute for Intellectual Disabilities (GRIID); Member Secretary, Chandigarh Mental Health Authority; and President-Elect of the Indian Association for Social Psychiatry (IASP), among others. His close associates in the institute would vouch that he e-mailed and WhatsApped instructions and decisions till he was conscious, even after he could not talk any more.

This was Prof. Chavan.

Wrong. He was much more.

Bir Singh was a humble son of the soil, from Haryana. After graduating from Government Medical College, Rohtak, Haryana, he did his postgraduate degree course (MD Psychiatry) from the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, from January 1985 to December 1987. After a short stint as Senior Resident in PGIMER, he shifted to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi, in 1988 as a Faculty Member and worked there till May 1996 when he joined the still nascent Department of Psychiatry at GMCH, Chandigarh, as its Professor and Head. Moreover, during these 24 years of his stay here, he worked in the Department, and on it, like a sculptor chisels a sculpture out of bare rock to an art piece of perfection. This is where he lived. Moreover, this is where he died.

This is not the place to enumerate and critically evaluate all his works in psychiatry; that is a task for the reviewers and for posterity. Suffice it to say that Prof. Chavan was a multidimensional man. His achievements in psychiatry, especially in the fields of intellectual disability, chronic severe mental illness, community psychiatry, and rehabilitation psychiatry, are too evident and well known to recall here, nor is this the right time to recount these. Suffice it to say that his contributions in mental health will always remain etched in the history of psychiatry in India. He was a visionary, strategist, administrative master, ace organizer, leader, and karma-yogi, all in one.

Of the diverse array of activities, Prof. Chavan would perhaps best be remembered for his services in the area of community, social, and rehabilitation psychiatry. Using his tremendous vision, astute planning, and enviable resourcefulness, with a dogged pursuit, he set up various services at various levels – government organization, nongovernmental organization, and hybrid models. An incomplete sampling of his activities would read something like this:

  1. Planning and setting up community outreach service for early identification and management of substance abuse problem. The services are running since 1997 at four sites in the periphery of Chandigarh
  2. Setting up of Suicide Prevention Helpline and Crisis Intervention Team since 2003
  3. Setting up of Human Genetic Centre (antenatal and new-born screening) for prevention of disability.
  4. Setting up of Half-Way Home-cum-Avaas for homeless mentally ill patients
  5. Conceptualizating and implementing innovative Umeed Project for the job placement of mentally challenged
  6. Setting up Regional Institute (currently named GRIID) for diagnosis, research, and training of 1000 mentally challenged children on 8.5 acres of land
  7. Setting up of permanent home called “SAMARATH” for the mentally challenged
  8. Setting up of community day-care centers for the mentally challenged in the villages of Kajheri, Khuda Ali Sher, Raipur Khurd, and Karsan
  9. Setting up of Mental Health Institute for chronic mentally ill persons
  10. Setting up Centre of Excellence in mental health for work force production (MD Psychiatry, MPhil Clinical Psychology, MPhil Psychiatric Social Work, and Diploma in Psychiatric Nursing)
  11. Setting up Disability Assessment, Rehabilitation, and Triage Centre for rehabilitation of chronic mentally ill persons since 2012
  12. Setting up of Home-Based Treatment (2013) and Crisis Intervention Services (2014) for acute and uncooperative mentally ill patients
  13. Preparing data bank of all the persons with disability in Chandigarh after conducting House-to-House Survey (2015).

In addition to his tireless services for the mentally ill and differently abled people, Prof. Chavan was a great teacher, efficient clinician, and avid researcher–academician. Of the many research projects that he was involved with, and his many scholarly publications and erudite presentations, one book will stand out as a benchmark and bedrock of community mental health in India.[1]

It is not surprising that Prof. Chavan received many prestigious awards in his lifetime, including the most coveted Presidential Award in 2003 for his yeoman's work in the area of placement of mentally challenged children. This award is given to an individual/agency for developing an innovative and sustainable model for the placement of persons with disability. In Chandigarh, he conceived, planned, and executed the Umeed Model for the employment of children with intellectual disability.

As would be evident from the above, social psychiatry was his forte. He was associated with IASP for a long time. He was its Secretary General from 2011 to 2015, and during this tenure, he raised the achievements of the Association to an unassailable height. He became the President-Elect of IASP in 2018 and was slated for presidential installment this year (2020).

However, I have decided not to make this obituary a mournful one. Indeed, for those who would have seen him from closer quarters, Bir Singh Chavan was a very jovial, sprightly person with a hidden, almost-a-naughty sparkle in his eyes! He was a very “alive” man; he was not an austere statue. I would like to remember him as a lively person – constantly searching, exploring, wondering, expanding, experimenting, and experiencing. He lived his life to the full!

I am reminded of Snoopy the dog in the cartoon strip Peanuts, when his owner Charlie Brown sighed: “1 day, we will all die, Snoopy,” to which Snoopy observed with equanimity:

”True. But, on all the other days, we will not.”

Prof. B. S. Chavan lived till he died.

He is survived by his wife Dr. Kavita and two sons, Anubhav and Saarthak who stood by him with admirable patience, courage, and dignity. He is also survived by his very elderly mother and his loving Labrador, Bruno.

In the end, this is how I would remember Prof. B. S. Chavan, especially his last years:

He embraced pain and used it as fuel for his journey, and on his way, wiped away the pain and tears of many, many people who needed him more.

  References Top

Chavan BS, Gupta N, Arun P, Sidana A, Jadhav S. Community Mental Health in India. New Delhi: Jaypee Brothers; 2012.  Back to cited text no. 1


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