Obit: Dr. Bas Nair (C. K. Bhaskar)
By Arun Venugopal
Dr. Bas Nair (C.K. Bhaskar), a renowned cricketer for the Indian national team who went on to pursue an illustrious career in medicine and served on the 294 organizing committee for the 1993 AKMG Convention in Houston, passed away at his home in Houston, Saturday night at the age of 79. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Chandni; his daughters Rita Nair, Tanya Nair Cocchia, and Sonya Nair Cranford and his sons-in-law Dominic Cocchia and Johnathan Cranford.
For the last seven years, Dr. Nair lived with cancer, but as his daughter, Tanya described, he remained unrelenting in his pursuit of all that mattered to him: travel, music, good meals, and time with the people he loved and cared for.
“Up until two days before, he was still managing some patients,” she said.
The Kerala Cricket Association mourned Nair’s passing on Facebook, acknowledging him as “the first International Cricketer from Kerala, who had played for India in the Unofficial Test Series against Ceylon in 1964 under the Captaincy of the Nawab of Pataudi,” and in First-Class matches. As one fan remarked, “He was Kerala’s hero.”
He was born in 1941 to Gopalan Nair and Ammu Kutty Amma. Even as a teenager entering medical school, Bhaskaran Nair was something of a legend.
“‘C.K. Bhaskar is here. C.K. Bhaskar is here!’” recalled his friend, Dr. Venugopal K. Menon, echoing the excitement of students at Thiruvanthapuram Medical College in the late 1950s.
At the time, he had gained fame as a young cricket player. But an embarrassing moment about his athletic abilities left a profound mark on him.
“I was a final-year at Thiruvanthapuram Medical College when he joined,” said Menon. “Everyone knew him as the hero cricket player. When he was in the third year or so he played for India. Coming back to the class he was expecting a huge welcome. As the class started, [Principal of the College] Dr. M. Thangavelu entered and called out Bhaskaran’s name. He stood up, expecting accolades. But the sir told him, as a medical student you learn medicine, or can choose to play cricket, but not both together. Bhaskar felt bad but he took it as a challenge; went to the UK, got his MRCP, to Canada, and got FRCP, and into the USA and got the boards. When he met Dr. Thangavelu many years later, he thanked him for that awkward day.”
His niece, Dr. Anjana Rajan, described him as a “master diagnostician.”
“Recently I texted him from the E.R. after my son hurt his arm,” said Rajan, who is Director of Behavioral Health at Tufts University School of Medicine. “The E.R. physician misdiagnosed my son with ‘nursemaid elbow’ after he fell off a swing at the playground and we were discharged. Bas Uncle called me 295 immediately and said ‘Go back,’ [that] there’s no way that’s the diagnosis because I wasn’t swinging him around by his arms. He told me it was a lateral epicondyle fracture. He had not even physically seen my son as we live in Boston. Just heard my description of the events. He made me go back and insist on a full set of X-rays and scans and indeed it was exactly that.”
In addition to his diagnostic abilities, Rajan said she was struck by his bedside manner as he treated her 5-year-old son.
“I feel like very few people ‘get’ children. But he always treated him like a person first and not just a child. Always kneels down to talk to him and looks him in the eyes. Right up until the end he was always respectful to Niam in addition to being loving. We let my son know he passed away today and he was sobbing. He asked how old does he have to be to go to heaven to see him again.”
Somehow, Nair found the time to have both a family and a thriving career while committing himself fully to his various passions.
He ran marathons. He was a gifted public speaker. He played tabla and would unhesitatingly sing to a friend on their birthday or serenade a young newlywed couple with an old Bollywood ballad. He collected art — including works by Salvador Dali and Frederic Remington — and he obsessively followed sports. This included personally attending each Olympic Games from Munich (1972) to Rio de Janeiro (2016).
“Every single one,” said Tanya
He even, remarkably, obtained a patent: his invention, ‘Artificial wind producing flagpole assembly,’ (U.S. Patent 7,017,510) was intended to remedy the embarrassing condition of a limp flag, drooping feebly from its flagpole.
His longtime friend, Dr. Jay K. Raman (aka Jay Mohan), who regularly gathered for dinner with Nair, put it this way: “Bhaskar is a person of unlimited energy.”
“Is,” he said, retaining the present tense to describe his dear friend.
Tanya described her father as ‘larger than life,’ and took some comfort in the fact that he was surrounded by family in his final weeks, and that he continued to crack jokes, to the point that his hospice worker questioned whether he was in fact sick.
“He was basically like, ‘I’m not afraid of death, and you shouldn’t be afraid.’ He had that mentality. ‘I’ve had a very full life; I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to.’”
There was little that could deter him, even in the throes of illness, she said. Three days before he died, as he sat in his bed, he asked for his tabla to be brought to him.
“We were all just sitting around, watching him play,” she said. “It was really remarkable. And it was just such a beautiful time, too.”
— Arun Venugopal is a journalist and the son of Dr. Venugopal Menon and will
dearly miss Dr. Nair, aka Bhaskar Uncle