Surgeon restores what bomb took 27 years ago

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By G.C. SHEKHAR
  • Published 2.06.14
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Ganesh with Dr Amar Agarwal after the surgery

Chennai, June 1: A Tamil film musician who lost most of his vision in a “parcel bomb” blast 27 years ago can now see almost normally thanks to a novel technique developed by a Chennai eye surgeon.

On November 17, 1986, Ganesh of the musician duo Shankar-Ganesh had opened a parcel he had received by post. It contained a tape recorder with a note from the sender requesting a break in films if he liked the music.

As Ganesh pressed the “play” button, the tape recorder exploded in his face, injuring his hands and eyes.

Plastic surgery restored his hands and allowed him to play the keyboard, but his eyes presented a greater challenge. He had lost vision in his right eye and had blurred vision in the left.

“I was too scared to have surgery, fearing I might become completely blind,” said Ganesh, 65, who shares Bollywood musician Bappi Lahiri’s love of bling.

Using the partial vision in his left eye, Ganesh was somehow able to continue composing music and performing stage shows — and even driving his car.

In 1991, he had another brush with a blast — the one that killed Rajiv Gandhi. He was performing on the stage at the Congress rally in Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, when a human bomb killed Rajiv and 15 others less than 50 metres away.

“It took me many months to get over the shock,” Ganesh had said.

Ganesh and Shankar had composed the music for over 100 films in four languages, including many hits by MGR, Rajinikanth and Vijayakanth in the 1970s.

The peppy and cheerful Ganesh was the popular face of the pair, while the reclusive Shankar preferred the solitude of the recording room.

“Ganesh was the innovator while Shankar arranged the music. Although devastated by Shankar’s death a few years ago, Ganesh still performs under the banner of Shankar-Ganesh,” a recording engineer said.

Although they were rated behind peers such as M.S. Viswanathan and Ilayaraaja, the duo composed scores of popular tunes, many of them lifted from Hindi films and ghazals and improvised to suit the local taste.

“But for MGR’s encouragement, I would have gone into depression after the accident,” Ganesh said.

MGR had even requested the media not to print photos of the injured Ganesh, who began wearing gloves to hide the scars on his hands and tinted glasses to improve his vision.

Although Ganesh used to accompany his wife to Chennai’s Aggarwal Eye Hospital, he resisted repeated suggestions to undergo surgery to restore his vision.

“His right eye was fully scarred and had no vision. His left eye was scarred too, but allowed him to see in a blurry fashion,” said Dr Amar Agarwal, the eye surgeon who treated him.

In 2008, Dr Agarwal came up with his “glued intra ocular lens” technique, in which an artificial lens is glued in as the replacement for a damaged cornea.

“The glue is not a synthetic gum but is a tissue made from the patient’s blood, so the chances of it being rejected are nil. It took a lot of convincing to get Ganesh onto the operating table,” Dr Agarwal said.

What gave Ganesh greater confidence was the manner in which the eye surgeon had used the same technique two months earlier to restore the vision of an Iraqi woman who had lost her eyesight in a bombing 22 years ago.

“Since the scarring in Ganesh’s right eye had worsened, it would have begun bleeding at any place where we made an incision. So, it was a surgical challenge to fix the lens without any complications,” Dr Agarwal said.

After two days, Shankar could see without his glasses. The first thing he wanted to look at was the music sheet of a popular number he had scored for an MGR movie.

At Agarwal’s request, Ganesh even played the keyboard and sang for the media.

The musician said he felt as though a whole new world had opened up before him — a world more colourful, brighter and enjoyable than the one in which he had spent the past 27 years.

“My music too will reflect this,” he said.