September 18, 2000


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The Rediff Interview/Dr B Ramana Rao

'Rajakumar will emerge stronger'

Appaji looked as if he had a cold," said Puneet Rajakumar. "We are all now quite worried about his health." The main question in our minds is just what physical condition septuagenarian Dr Rajakumar will be in when he emerges from forest brigand Veerappan's custody. Will he ever be the same sprightly super star he was again, or will we now see an ageing body traumatised by jungle living, never what it used to be?'s M D Riti spoke to Rajakumar's personal physician Dr B Ramana Rao in Bangalore again, to find out....

Now that Kannada film icon Rajakumar has been living in the jungle for six weeks, could you as his physician hazard a guess about his health?

I would expect him to have a stomach infection, mild chest congestion and a skin infection. It must be sheer torture for him to live in conditions he is not used to. It is bound to reflect on his health, given that he is elderly.

He can withstand quite a lot of strain, as he is mentally very strong. His body seems to have acclimatised itself to the new environment. He has not had any major problems and his minor problems seem to be getting taken care of by nature.

What are his minor health problems?

I can see from videos sent across that he is definitely not in top form. His body is certainly taking a beating. It cannot withstand that for long. There is no doubt that he will be having minor stomach infections and gastric problems.

His sons say that he seems to suffering from a cold. His legs certainly look swollen. His face looks puffy and dark. As his physician of 15 years, how does he look to you in the videos?

When a hypertense person like him is not on medication, he is bound to show signs of strain. If this is a strain on the cardio-vascular system, then, particularly among the elderly, it will not pump as much blood as it should. An early sign of this is swelling in the feet.

The face swelling and skin darkening must be due to exposure. Lack of sleep could also cause facial swelling. His routine has been affected and this will certainly show on his face. The swelling in feet could also be due to walking, standing or sitting for long. But one must be concerned about the heart when there is swelling in the feet of the elderly.

Local swelling could also be caused by local infection, as he is in an environment where he could be bitten by insects.

How well can Dr Rajakumar be able to withstand constant exposure to rain? Even in the videos, he sometimes seems to be speaking, seated in the rain.

Exposure to such harsh environment could lead to pneumonia and bronchitis, especially as a person like him who is prone to lung infection. He is susceptible to allergies, colds, coughs and even breathing difficulties. These problems are bound to increase when exposed to elements as he is now.

Will this exposure and experience of living in the jungle cause him any permanent physical damage, given his age?

No. He is literally a super human being. He may be down for a week at the most. And it may take him a month or two to bounce back completely. In fact, he will come out even stronger from the experience. I do not foresee major upheavals in his health.

Have you asked his family to advise him through emissaries or their All India Radio broadcasts to him, to take any particular precautions?

No, because we will not know where we stand until he comes out of the jungle and we conduct various tests on him. But knowing his system, I do not foresee problems. I am sure he will bounce back very quickly. He may have only a few temporary problems. We will definitely be able to tackle them.

Will the fairly hard life he led as a struggling and poor theatre actor half a century ago have equipped him better? Or has his body taken such a beating with early hardships that it cannot withstand anything now?

Rajakumar led a very simple life, even though he could command any luxuries. In his position, I would probably have been going around in a Mercedes Benz! But he only uses ordinary cars. His body is used to minimal facilities, not to comforts. That will certainly stand him in good stead.

Is there any risk that Rajakumar will not survive the hardships of living in the jungle?

No. His health will suffer, but there is no danger to his life. We will only have to combat stress and strain, exposure to unclean water and food. That can be easily overcome.

How much longer will it be safe for Rajakumar to stay in custody?

I see no physical danger. He has overcome the roughest parts of the sojourn already. But he has certainly been in the forests for far too long and should be brought out quickly.

How do you think your other patient, Rajakumar's son-in-law S A Govindaraj is coping health-wise?

He too exercises regularly. That will help him cope. He has no serious health problems and can do without medication. He too suffers from mild hypertension, caused entirely by the stress and strain of normal life and his business. That is not there in his present environment, so his blood pressure will be normal.

He too looks puffy and troubled, in the videos.

He only looks stressed and worried. What he will be really worried about is all of us, not himself. Both he and Rajakumar will only be worried about what problems could arise because of their not being with us.

How is Rajakumar's family coping with the uncertainty and tension?

Nobody is sleeping or eating well. They have all lost many kilos. Madam is not at all well. Her blood pressure is very high. She is showing serious signs of a breakdown. She has deteriorated over the past few days. She collapsed several times. I check her twice a day. Even increased blood pressure medication does not seem to be helping. But she is strong, so I hope she improves soon. Lakshmi, Govindaraj's wife, is coping very well, and being of great support and solace to her mother. Only Govind anna's two children are looking lost.

If you were to go now to pick up Rajakumar, as you said you would be doing whenever he is released, will you be taking more fire-fighting medication?

We have gone past the stage where we could have had serious problems. So now I will be able to offload half my bag! I will not need any emergency drugs. We will certainly not need any kind of intensive care unit set up.

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