Part-memoir and part-manifesto for inspired living, “Making Excellence a Habit” is one man or rather one determined family’s unrelenting crusade to prevent and treat diabetes. Dr.V.Mohan started out with his wife Rema Mohan in an unassuming fashion in 1991 on a mission. Egged on by borrowed funds and benevolent well wishers the couple faced insurmountable hurdles ranging from a scheming landlord to a most unsuitable location in which to begin a dedicated medical facility for the treatment of diabetic patients. Undeterred they persuaded, ploughed away, and persisted. At the time of writing this review, Dr. Mohan’s Group is one of the largest chains of diabetes centres in the world, comprising 48 branches spanning eight states and spread across thirty two cities all over India. This Group has treated to the north of 900,000 patients and is also the collaboration centre for World Health Organization on Non Communicable Diseases Prevention and Control.
Dr. Mohan’s capabilities and renown transcends geographies. In the year 2018, the American Diabetes Association conferred the 2018 Dr Harold Rifkin Award for Distinguished International Service in the Cause of Diabetes on Dr Mohan. As on date, he remains the only Indian to have been the beneficiary of this august honour. As the diabetologist chronicles in the early part of his book, his ambition was more to follow in the aesthetic footsteps of Shelley and Wordsworth than in wielding a stethoscope or a scalpel. However an enviable pedigree and an engrossing opportunity put paid to such hopes. Dr. Mohan’s father Professor M. Viswanathan is popularly referred to as the “father of diabetology” in India. He was the first medical professional in the nation channel all his efforts in furiously dissecting diabetes to its minutest level with an avowed objective of serving the Indian populace plagued with this silent killer. He soon took the enterprising Dr. Mohan under his tutelage and the father son duo tackled the onset and progression of this disease with a maniacal rigour. “By the time I had completed my undergraduate medical education, I had already written twenty research papers. As our economic standing improved, I also started travelling with my father—initially, around the country and, soon, all around the world. This exposed me to the work done on diabetes at various research centres and universities, nationally and internationally. Needless to say, my self-confidence got a huge boost.”
But as Dr. Mohan demonstrates in a telling manner, nothing comes in life on a platter. Grit, guts, and gumption are indispensable handmaidens of success. This is the very grit that has ensured that this famed practioner has penned more than 1300 peer reviewed research papers in the field of diabetology. A devout man, the doctor is also an ardent follower of Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba, the popular spiritual Guru. The author’s twin-pronged belief in prayer and the power of positive thinking is articulated in a Chapter where a patient through unflagging will power and persistent prayers successfully brings down his blood sugar levels from an alarming number to a perfectly “manageable” number.
Dr. Mohan also pays a moving and heartfelt tribute to his late wife Dr. Rema Mohan. A specialist in diabetic retinopathy herself, Rema was a pillar of strength and succour in the life of Dr. Mohan. Working with an indefatigable fervour in the running and embellishment of Dr. Mohan’s Specialist Diabetes Centre she was the epitome of encouragement and optimism. Even when beset by cancer and undergoing chemotherapy and radiotherapy, she continued to work from home. “It was during this difficult period that she wrote her PhD thesis and eventually became the first ophthalmologist in India to obtain a PhD degree. Although a clinician, Rema did basic research on the biochemistry of diabetic eye disease, which was most unusual for an ophthalmologist.”
Dr. Mohan throughout the book displays his penchant for literature and an insatiable love of books. Deriving inspiration from both spiritual and scientific authors, he co-relates many incidents from his own life with passages from various books. Dr. Mohan also illuminates his readers on the valuable lessons one can learn from failures and setbacks. Many branches of Dr. Mohan’s Diabetes Centres were shut down in various cities (one Centre was unsuccessful after incurring huge expenses in Muscat even) on account of various factors and as Dr. Mohan humbly states, each failure was a lesson that collectively warned him about the perils of spreading oneself thin.
Dr. Mohan also places invaluable emphasis on the need for inculcating an altruistic bent. His Group approached the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF) in Denmark and requested their support in establishing a telemedicine unit. With the support of the WDF, Dr. Mohan and his Group fabricated, from scratch, a mobile diabetes clinic, the first of its kind, fitted with all the equipment needed to screen for diabetes and its complications. The Indian Space Research Organization donated a satellite link, which was fitted on the bus. This enabled the images in real time, to be sent, from the van to a base hospital in Gopalapuram in Chennai. Quoting “The Psychology of Persuasion” by bestselling author Robert B. Cialdini, Dr. Mohan goads his reader to ‘start by taking the smallest possible action towards your goal and then leverage that commitment to motivate yourself to do more.’
As Dr.Mohan educates his readers, the pernicious yet burgeoning incidence of child obesity also contributes immensely to an upsurge in diabetes. With a view to nip child obesity in the bud, Dr. Mohan commenced a vast programme to prevent obesity in children. “Through the Obesity Reduction and Awareness and Screening of Noncommunicable Diseases through Group Education in Children and Adolescents (or ORANGE) project, we reached out to 22,000 children in over 100 schools in Chennai, both government and private, where we taught them the importance of healthy eating, physical exercise and the overall need to prevent or treat obesity. The project was a huge success and led to an improvement in the lifestyles and health of thousands of children. One can practice the prevention of diabetes.”
“Making Excellence a Habit” is a passionate quasi-autobiography that illustrates the power of determination, devotion, dedication, and discipline. It would not be out of place to state to conclude that Dr. Mohan seems to lead his life uncompromisingly based on one of the favourite quotes of his spiritual preceptor, Sri Sathya Sai Baba, “hands that help are holier than the lips that pray.”