Lives of the fellows

Aaron Benedict Benty Abiel Karat

b.2 June 1931 d.14 March 1982
BSc(1952) MB BS(1958) MRCP(1963) FRCPE(1972) FRCP(1978)

Benty’s father was headmaster and English teacher at the prestigious Christian High School at Udipe, Mangalore, South India. Benty’s career was strongly to reflect this early influence. After qualifying in Madras (in 1958) and rotating internships in Vellore, he came to England to continue his training. His capacity for work seemed unlimited. Yet even as he studied he was putting his considerable talents, his insatiable thirst for knowledge and his enjoyment of life at the service of his patients. His own higher degrees came almost as a by-product.

In 1964 Benty Karat returned to India and became lecturer, senior lecturer and then consultant physician to the Christian Medical College, Vellore, and to the Schieffelin Leprosy Research Institute in nearby Karigiri. The next six years were probably the happiest of his life, and it was then that I really got to know him. In a remarkable relationship (both personal and professional) he and his wife Sakuntala (an orthopaedic surgeon) literally put Karigiri on the international leprosy map.

Benty would spend his days in an intense and unique blend of basic research, clinical work in the wards, administration, and meticulous care of every aspect of his patients’ needs. He and his team explored visceral disease in leprosy, patterns of neurological involvement in erythema nodosum leprosum, the use of new drugs and a wide variety of basic bacteriological and immunological problems. Their interests ranged from new epidemiological techniques to new methods for testing sweating under field conditions. Many important papers appeared in the International Journal of Leprosy. Somehow, Benty also found time for concern about the welfare of his steady stream of visitors. Although of diminutive stature, he was a dynamo of energy, and generated disciplined enthusiasm among all those he worked with.

I retain vivid memories of Benty’s Karigiri days. It was a unique experience. His mind was always racing ahead, outlining his plans, as we set out over rough paths to the wards, to the sound of bird song in the translucent early Indian morning, right through to sundown when we would walk back as the sky above ‘his’ hospital took on, in quick succession, every colour of the rainbow. Here was a man at one with himself, his deep beliefs expressed naturally and without artifice in his every act.

After a short spell in Bangalore as consultant physician to the Church of South India and honorary professor of medicine to St John’s Medical College, Benty returned to the United Kingdom in 1973. He was appointed consultant physician first in Birkenhead, and later in Sunderland. Here again, under darker skies, he threw himself generously and wholeheartedly into the care of his patients, without neglecting his many other interests. He tackled waiting lists without fuss or fury but with single-mindedness, solving — through quiet example - problems others had deemed insoluble.

He continued to write, to teach, to comfort and to inspire - whether as a member of the editorial board of Leprosy in India, as honorary consultant to the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, as local organizer for the Geriatric Society, or as a member of the local area health care planning team for the elderly. His family and friends remained at the centre of his life and he found time to enjoy philately, table tennis and photography with them.

When a cruel illness took him, at the age of fifty, he had already given a great deal to many people, in various parts of the world. To those privileged to be with him during the last painful weeks, he gave even more: the rare and inspiring sight of an unshakeable faith, and the proof that the spirit of a good man fulfilled can put even death in its place.

C Pallis

[Brit.med.J., 1982, 284, 1203]

(Volume VII, page 310)

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