Obituary: Pundlik Gaitonde
Privileged were those who came into close contact with Pundlik Gaitonde, a man of versatile achievements who founded the Goan National Congress in the 1950s and played a crucial role in hastening the end of the far- flung Portuguese maritime empire as the pioneering organiser of the liberation movements that fought in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau to bring about the collapse of the Salazar regime. A medical scientist and surgeon by profession, a freedom fighter against colonial rule, an author of books on 16th-century history and contemporary politics and, in his later years, the computer-program organiser of a compendium for the treatment of cancer to be used by doctors in developing countries, Gaitonde was known by people in different countries and fields who were often only vaguely aware of his versatility.
Born in Palolem, Canecona, in 1913, in the then 'Portuguese State of Goa', Gaitonde started his medical studies at the 400- year-old Goa Medical School, the oldest school of Western medicine in Asia, and graduated in surgery at the Lisbon Faculty of Medicine, having had Professor Reynaldo dos Santos and Professor Egas Moniz, a Nobel prize-winner, as his teachers. The independence of 'British' India in 1947 was the deciding factor in Gaitonde starting his involvement in politics.
Upon returning from Lisbon to Goa, where he became Surgeon Director of the old Hospital of Miracles in Mapuca, Gaitonde became one of the founders of the Goan National Congress, like its Indian counterpart devoted to the peaceful struggle for independence, but forced to operate clandestinely in view of the repressive character of the national-colonialist Salazar regime which regarded Portugal's overseas colonies as 'provinces' of a single country and any nativist separatist claims as tantamount to high treason. His active role in the underground Goan freedom struggle resulted in his being arrested by the state police PIDE and deported to Portugal. On his release from 'security measures' he returned to India but this time into exile in New Delhi. He worked as honorary Senior Surgeon at the Irwin Hospital and created and headed its Cancer Unit.
In 1960 he was openly elected President of the National Congress of Goa and his dedication earned him the support of the Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his daughter and eventual successor Indira Gandhi. Realising that the then incipient liberation movements of Portugal's five African colonies lacked minimal conditions, resources and diplomatic support, Gaitonde set out to unite them in a joint Conference of the Nationalist Organisations of the Portuguese Colonies, of which he became Secretary and spokesman, with the backing of exiled African leaders who, after independence, became heads of state and ministers in their respective countries.
In the 1960s he visited the United States, the Soviet Union and several other countries and represented the joint cause of Goa and the other colonies at the UN, thus achieving a situation whereby Goa, the oldest of Portuguese colonies, with the support of Nehru's India, became the patron of the cause of all the others. The failed uprising in Angola after brutal retaliation in early 1961 was an added factor that prompted the summary integration of Goa in India after an invasion in December of the same year. Somewhat against his inclination, Gaitonde became the first Goan Member of Parliament in New Delhi.
He was soon to discover that freedom fighters are not necessarily politicians and party politics made him long to resume his medical profession and other creative pursuits. He came with his Azorian-born wife Edila, a music teacher, to London in the mid-Sixties and ended his medical career working as a consultant in the cancer department of the Royal London Hospital, Whitechapel. From London he frequently visited India and Portugal and it was not until he was in his sixties that he began to publish his books.
Significantly, his first book, published in 1983, was not on politics but on history, namely Portuguese Pioneers in India: spotlight on medicine, a study of the introduction of Western science in India in the 16th century, which concludes with the broad statement 'Portugal and India interacted by influencing each other in many fields and neither the history of India or that of Portugal can be correctly written without taking into account the developments in both countries.'
In 1986 he published The Liberation of Goa, a study of contemporary politics based upon his experience as a participant in the anti-colonial struggles. In view of England's influence in the survival of Portuguese rule in the former maritime empire practically up to the advent of the jet, London was an ideal place for his researches.
Over the past few years he turned his active retirement to compiling a computerised compendium for the treatment of cancer which has been marketed in India for the use of doctors in the developing countries. With a modesty which he claimed to be based on a sense of proportion he used to say that the most anyone can achieve in any field is to be a pioneer. More interested in creating than in consuming, he was so unconcerned with fame that only his family and close friends knew the range of his versatility.
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