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  Mens Sana Monographs
A Monograph Series Devoted To The Understanding Of Medicine, Mental Health, Man, Mind, Music And Their Matrix
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ARTICLE
Year : 2005  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 3-6
Prof. N.N. Wig : Pioneer, conscientious researcher, and a multi-faceted personality


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Correspondence Address:
Anirudh K Kala
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I met Prof. Wig for the first time on 1 st January 1970. That was the day I joined the Department of Psychiatry at the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, as a junior resident. That was also the day I received a piece of very unusual advice. When, like any keen to please new junior resident, I asked him as to which books should I read as a new comer in Psychiatry, he said, "You have a long residency;" (it used to be four years in PGI at that time), "during the first year, read other things." When I asked, "What other things?" he said, "Anything but Psychiatry."

It was only later that I could gauge the depth of that advice about the extreme importance of "other things" in the practice of psychiatry, and that I was being told to absorb those "other things" when I had a fresh mind before I plunged into the main stream of psychiatry.

It has been a matter of joy and pride to have known Prof. Wig for these thirty-five years. One feels special because of this association.

Early seventies were heady days for Indian Psychiatry and for the general hospital psychiatry movement, which I am convinced has been the only true revolution in Indian Psychiatry to have happened so far. (Others were just matters of quantitative growth. Community could have been another but it has not happened on a scale to have made a difference). Prof Wig was one of the few pioneers of the general hospital psychiatry movement in the country at that time.

A series of seminal research projects on motivation and psychological sequelae of family planning measures were also ongoing in the departments those years. Prof Wig used to share the progress in an enthusiastic manner with even the junior-most resident. Some years later, when Sanjay Gandhi's aggressive family planning campaigns during Emergency came into force, he would lament in the coffee room that years of hard work and data had become less relevant.

Thorough and Conscientious

Prof. Wig has been a very thorough and conscientious research worker from the very beginning. He was very particular about details and honesty of data collection. On the other hand, at times, he alone could see the direction a set of data was pointing and would make suitable interim changes. The latter quality I could experience first hand many years later when he was the leader of a task force of ICMR in the early eighties, which formulated and monitored a whole slew of important research projects all over the country. I used to participate as an investigator from Goa in the then famous multi-centred Acute Psychosis study. His contribution as a national research leader in those years was immense and it permeated to the whole country, although it is not often talked about in that deserved a manner.

This expertise as a research leader came to fore many times over the years, particularly during the famous community psychiatry experiment of Raipur Rani.

Prof Wig was trained in UK. He belongs to a clinical tradition, which in those days was very different from the American tradition in many ways (including diagnosing more Affective disorders than Schizophrenias, generally paying more attention to Organic factors and putting emphasis on Phenomenology rather than Psychoanalytic factors). All of these incidentally have borne the test of time and the difference in American and British Psychiatry has now narrowed.

In departmental discussions, whether about a contentious diagnosis or a theoretical standpoint, the atmosphere was highly democratic (we took it for granted then but realized later that it was not so everywhere), and heated discussions were very common. I remember the case of a young woman who had been admitted for a and used to have multiple hysterical fits in the wards. The case was taken to the departmental clinical meeting where the discussion revolved around the early childhood and psychodynamic and psychoanalytic aspects of the symptoms and formulation of analytic psychotherapy as plan of treatment. Everybody, including the residents, senior residents, and two of the three consultants, agreed about almost everything when Prof Wig surprised everyone by saying that the woman was primarily a case of hypomania and hysterical fits were only secondary. None of us agreed till her second admission, a year later, when she was admitted with a frank excitement, and with no fits.

Prof. Wig was adept at looking out for and focusing on the hidden positive aspects of even a thoroughly hopeless situation, or a person. During discussions, when we would get restless about a particular resident's long winded discussion which was even factually wrong, Prof. Wig, at the end of it, would pick up a sentence (which was spoken as an aside, or not spoken at all!) and expand it into something very nice, coherent and positive. His teaching method was through encouragement and by promoting redeeming features of a student, or for that matter of any body else he came across.

Fair and Encouraging

He was very fair and encouraging as an internal examiner, without taking sides. Towards the end of my residency I was posted in consultation-liaison and saw a particularly interesting case which I requested him to see and give his opinion on, since my own diagnosis of the case seemed far fetched even to me. I thought the patient was suffering from Acute Intermittent Porphyria. Dr Wig saw the patient, agreed with the diagnosis (it was subsequently confirmed by biochemical investigations) and patted my back for having thought of such a rare condition. Six months later during my MD examination, the external examiner (Prof K. C. Dube) asked me some questions about episodic psychosis. I gave the standard answers but he wanted more and rarer causes and even gave me a hint about the King of England who was called mad. It did not occur to me till Prof Wig said, "It is the same rare diagnosis that you yourself made on a real patient six months back". And the penny dropped!

He would sometimes get angry with us, but it was very subtle and would have a long lasting effect. I remember once, Salman Akhtar (brother of lyricist Javed Akhtar, and now a famous psychoanalyst in ) who was one year senior to me, came to the wards wearing a flowery shirt of mauve and purple colour. Prof. Wig looked up and down at him and said, "Salman, sometimes I think, it would be a good idea for us to wear white coats." Salman never wore that shirt again in the hospital.

Encyclopaedic Knowledge

Apart from Psychiatry, Prof. Wig has an encyclopaedic knowledge of almost everything - be it films, literature, classical music, historical maps (one of his hobbies), rare species of birds (bird watching is another hobby), genealogies, wines (he hardly drinks), or Urdu poetry. One of the Indian Psychiatry Society, North Zone's, Conferences was once held in Solan and a visit was arranged to the famous brewery there. I overheard Prof. Wig talking to the brewery master about the intricacies of making beer. He was so awestruck at the end of those twenty minutes that he came down all those steps with folded hands to see him off. Every winter, Jalandhar (about 150 kms from Chandigarh) hosts the famous Harvallabh festival of classical music. Till a few years back, Prof. Wig would attend it often, in spite of the biting cold.

Prof. Wig's wife, Dr.Veena Wig is a remarkable person in her own right and would need a separate write up to do her justice. She has a doctorate in the history of art, she is very elegant, very graceful and has a distinct presence of her own, not an easy task under the circumstances. As to who is the scholar in the house, the question is still open. She is his constant companion at most of the academic events. Students in the department were frequently invited to their home and she has been looked upon by generations of residents as a mother figure.

Prof. Wig's students are spread out throughout the world today but they keep in touch with him out of deep affection and gratitude, and probably also to continue this process of nurturing by him for as long as possible. May God grant him a long life.




 

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