Abhishek Bhan Sharma
Dr. Maharaj Kishan Bhan began his life in the small neighborhood of Kanyakadal in Srinagar, Kashmir. He was a darling baby brother to three older siblings. The bond between these four brothers was like no other and remained that way his whole life. His family lovingly referred to him as Buti. Buti baba, Buti uncle, Buti bhaiya, Buti ji was who he was to all of those in his large extended family. Their father, Sri Som Nath Bhan, fostered an environment full of curiosity and exploration. All four brothers remember their father teaching them “How to think” and not “What to think.” Their mother, Srimati Soma Wati Bhan, imbued them with a deeply generous and large-hearted spirit. Dr. Bhan would say that from his mother he learned how to love and how to bring people together without losing one’s individuality. Dr. Bhan’s childhood was full of long philosophical conversations over meals, large family gatherings, and cuddling together to maintain warmth during the cold winters of Kashmir. He could have probably spent his entire life nestled in this cocoon, but he couldn’t ignore his innate desire to learn and do more.
He left Srinagar to attend the Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) in Pune, where he completed his MBBS. He was famously known as Brother Bhan by all at AFMC and he developed a special bond with the Jawaans (Indian army soldiers) who were often his patients. As an older man he often joked that he spent a little too much time perfecting his spin bowling technique rather than burying his head in books at AFMC. But nothing got in the way of his studies. His performance never declined, and his focus was always razor sharp. He moved on to do his M.D. from Delhi University and his residency at Safdarjung Hospital. He spent most of his nights tending to ailing children in the pediatric ward of Safdurjung Hospital. He would say that this is the first time in his life that he found his true love for the practice of Medicine.
It was also during this time that he started seeing the love of his life, then Ms. Girija Kaul, his darling Jiji. She became his life partner, his thought partner, and his best friend. Through marriage, Dr. Bhan found his second set of parents, Padma Shri J.N. Kaul and Mrs. Indira Kaul. Mrs. Girija Bhan often says that both her husband and her father had a similar innate quality. Each devoted their life to maternal and child health and well-being. Mrs. Indira Kaul, Dr. Bhan’s motherin-law has known her darling son-in-law since he was a toddler and continues to loves him dearly ever since then.
Dr. and Mrs. Bhan began their married life in the mystic mountains of Kabul, Afghanistan where Dr. Bhan was posted by the Government of India and Mrs. Bhan was working with the United Nations. They supported, advised, and influenced each other through every life and career change—whether it was Mrs. Bhan’s transition from government service to entrepreneurship or Dr. Bhan’s journey from being a clinical physician at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to ultimately becoming a clinician scientist and administrator as Secretary of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India. Dr. Bhan was a true champion of his wife’s professional success. He happily took on the role of primary caregiver while she was posted in Mumbai for two years. He encouraged her to take risks, leaned on her for counsel, respected her immensely, and much to her chagrin, lovingly referred to her as the boss of the family. The truth is that he loved his empowered wife and was deeply proud of her. Above all, their love for each other reigned supreme and it was a true Bollywood romance.
Together they created a wonderful, close knit family with three children, Shereen, Abhishek, and Gautam. His sister in law, Dr. Kalpana Kaul Kini, shared very eloquently at his remembrance that there are three kinds of family: one that you are born into, one acquired in marriage, and one that you create through friendship. Shereen and Gautam were related to their parents by blood, and Abhishek came into the Bhan family through friendship. He was a teenager when he found his second set of parents and Dr. and Mrs. Bhan found their third child. The five of them have shared tremendous love and joy over the past few decades which was further enhanced by Shereen’s husband Owen and Abhishek’s wife Sonam. These two couples gave their parents a grandchild each, Rehaan and Aashi. The last few years of Dr. Bhan’s life were filled with overwhelming joy. His love for children was well known and now he had two more little nuggets with whom to share the many splendors of nature.
Dr. Bhan’s third family was built from an unbreakable bond with his community of students, mentees, and colleagues around the globe. He had such capacity for love that each one of them thought that they had a bigger piece of his heart than the other. In truth, he had room for everyone, and he made each one of them feel special. His humility, generosity, and desire to learn from everyone exemplified a form of collaborative and empathetic leadership. His relationships were built on the foundation of idea generation, mutual respect, and a burning desire to better the lives of others. Not only did they work together, but many of them cared for him like a father, especially during his final battle with cancer. A few dedicated individuals deserve special recognition— Dr.Rajiv Bahl, Dr. Shinjini Bhatnagar, Dr. Nita Bhandari, Dr. Rajat Goyal, and Dr. Uma Chandra Mouli Natchu (listed in order by last name), committed themselves to his care in the United States at Memorial Sloan Kettering and in India at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Each member of Dr. Bhan’s family in the United States and India enveloped him in an immense support network of care and love. The nurses of the fifth floor private ward at AIIMS also deserve a special mention for their constant care. Above all, his son Gautam and his wife Girija remained by his side day and night during his final six months, giving all of themselves to his care. The effort of all his caregivers, friends, and family was a testimony to the kind of affection and devotion he inspired.
Dr. Bhan would likely have added a fourth kind of family: India. He had many opportunities to leave India and take on prestigious international positions, but his love for his soil and her children was unparalleled. His desire to build the research and implementation capacity of India was paramount. His work ultimately took him all over the globe, and he contributed tremendously to the betterment of the lives of all children irrespective of geographical borders. But his home, his heart, was India.