Dr ML Sharma, one of the greatest teachers at MGIMS, died at his home after a prolonged illness on August 10, 2015. He was 85.
Associated with MGIMS almost right from its inception, Dr ML Sharma taught Pharmacology to a generation of medical students. Medical students at MGIMS (batches from the early 1970s to late 2000s) can never forget his passion and enthusiasm. No one could surpass his unique style, his theatrical mannerisms, his wit and humour, his deliberate silences, and the jokes he used to enliven into what many perceived a dull and drab subject. Gifted with a charming face—square jaw, chiselled nose, thick bushy eyebrows, large eyes, high cheekbones and pouting lips—he was the emperor of sixty minutes he would take to teach Pharmacology. He demystified drugs, simplified complex classifications and taught tips and tricks that would greatly help students remember what the drugs do, how they act and how they adversely impact the human body. Even after he had formally retired, he continued to walk to his class from his home. “In my class, I am the conductor and the class is my orchestra. I make all students play different instruments and at varying proficiencies,” Dr Sharma would explain his style.
Years after they had left MGIMS, the alumni would make it a point during their silver jubilee reunion to ask Dr Sharma take their classes. He never turned down their request. Even in his late 70s, he would enter the class packed with alumni and their families, and would be greeted with a thundering applause. “ He was a gifted teacher who precisely knew what the students needed to master this subject and pass their examinations,” said a former student. “He was not purely theoretical but spiritually infectious. He inspired, encouraged, engaged and enthused his students. A day before the examination, he would take a special class to kill our fear and restore our confidence,” recalled his former student. “He envisioned helping students learn who struggled, and was always eager to see the excitement in a student’s eyes when they finally understood the content, recalled a student.” Another student said, “ Not only did his enthusiasm made the subject more enjoyable and entertaining for students, but his fun classes also helped us retain larger amounts of information.”
When a former student asked him to explain the method of his madness, he said, “Teaching is as much about my growth as a teacher, as it is about participating in the academic and social growth of the MGIMS students. It’s about being self-deprecating and not taking myself too seriously. It’s often about making innocuous jokes, mostly at my own expense so that the ice breaks and students learn in a more relaxed atmosphere. I show them I am human too with my own share of faults and shortcomings.”
Dr Sharma also served as the principal of the Institute. He knew perfectly well how to discipline the vagabonds, how to balance discipline with freedom and how to overlook mischiefs. “Boys will be boys. I will be surprised if I do not hear boys breaking rules and benches in the hostel, “ he would often say. He would discipline them in his trademark style. Mocking anger on his stern face, he would reprimand them, remind them that this their last chance to get away scot free and would earn a promise from them that they won't repeat the mischiefs. And no sooner did the boys left his office, he would burst into un uncontrollable laughter. He was also a disciplinarian, because, as he often said, “ I have to be harsh to be kind.” He handled the faculty and residents with superb aplomb—always telling them that he was on their side— and mixed well with orderlies, drivers and lab technicians. His office was open to everyone who wanted to see him, and he had a unique knack of satisfying everyone who needed his advice or help.
The medical students from the 70s and 80s shall also remember Dr ML Sharma for the Sharma- special jokes that he would crack during Holi, the festival of colours. He would freely mix with students, let them drench him with colours and would sit with them, cross-legged. The students would be all ears and eyes to him- most of them can vividly recall his jokes even thirty years later.
Dr Sushila Nayar— affectionately called Badi Behenji— the founder director of MGIMS and president of Kasturba Health Society, always held Dr Sharma in high regard. All through his life, he enjoyed her unmitigated love, respect and trust. And he never used his proximity with her for personal gains.
All his life, Dr Sharma lived in a rented home- on Sevagram campus. “ I never built a house, nor did I buy a moped, let alone a scooter. I never boarded a plane, nor did I visit a foreign country.” Dr Sharma would often say. “ I practiced my craft, not for the money or because I had to, but because I truly enjoyed it and loved what I was doing. My biggest asset is my MGIMS students whom I taught Pharmacology. I am so happy that their love and affection for me hasn’t diminished with the passage of time,” he would say.
In 2009, Dr ML Sharma suffered a heart attack and underwent an emergency coronary artery bypass surgery at Hyderabad. The post-operative course was stormy, but he pulled out of the hospital with his grit and determination. He began to feel lonely after his wife passed away in 2012 and was home-bound in the final leg of his life. Over the last few months, he was ailing and preferred getting treated at home than getting admitted to the hospital. Predeceased by his wife and son (Dinesh, 1972- batch MGIMS alumnus), he is survived by his son, Dr Satish Sharma (Professor of Pathology at MGIMS) and grandchildren: Dr Pavan Sharma (MD, Community Medicine, 1996 batch) Dr Vijay Sharma (MD, Anaesthesiology, 1998 batch).
Dr ML Sharma was a superb human being, and a remarkable teacher. Although he was deeply religious— his fascination for Akhand Ramayan and Sunderkand was well-known— he hated rites and rituals. He excelled in all roles- a devoted husband, an affectionate father and a grandfather who doted on his grandchildren.
When teaching becomes a true passion for a person, one cannot help being humbled by the accomplishments that can be made in the life of the student and the life of a teacher. Dr ML Sharma showed that good teaching is about not only motivating students to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable.