Renowned psychiatrist Tan Sri Dr Mahadevan Mahalingam at his home in Ukay Heights, Ampang, Selangor. PIC BY SALHANI IBRAHIM

KUALA LUMPUR: MENTION the name Tan Sri Dr Mahadevan Mahalingam and “psychiatry” instantly flashes across one’s mind.

Dr Mahadevan was, after all, at one time the country’s most sought-after psychiatrist and was the former chief psychiatrist to the government.

The flamboyant bachelor, who turned 90 on Monday, still has a razor-sharp mind.

“Life has been beautiful. I’ve no regrets. If at all, my only regret is not having a son or daughter because I would have taught them how to ride horses.

“I have been very blessed. I came into this world howling and screeching.

“I do not want to die with trepidation or people cursing me. I want them to celebrate my life,” said Dr Mahadevan.

EARLY MEDICAL CAREER

Dr Mahadevan said his first love had always been psychiatry.

He undertook medical studies in Bangalore, India, in 1961. Four years later, he accepted an invitation to work with Professor John Dunn in Dublin, Ireland.

It was in 1965, as a young psychiatrist, that he witnessed a violent roadside accident that instantly claimed the lives of Muriel Hart and her pregnant daughter.

Muriel’s husband, Leonard Hart, survived.

“I recall using hypnosis to stabilise Leonard. That did the trick and eventually saved his life.

“It then dawned on me how important psychiatry is in our lives,” said Dr Mahadevan.

The British press went to town with his story.

Soon, “Father of Modern Hypnosis” John Hartland invited the young Dr Mahadevan to London to jointly present a series of lectures on the merits of haemorrhage management through hypnosis.

A MYSTERIOUS SPONSOR

Halfway though his career, a mysterious benefactor began to pay a stipend to further develop his knowledge and expertise.

“It took me to Columbia University, where I was an understudy of one of the most prestigious hypnotherapists of them all — Herbert Spiegel.

“I remember while at Harvard University, one of the most gifted and visionary psychiatrists, Professor Emeritus Chester Pierce, took notice of my work.

“He graciously offered me to continue my studies at Harvard, beyond the remit of my stipend.

“Pierce taught me new concepts and methods which were implemented when I returned to helm Hospital Bahagia (in Ulu Kinta, Perak),” said Dr Mahadevan.

It put him alongside 21st century hypnosis greats like Hartland, the father-and-son team of Herbert and David Spiegel and Michael Joseph, founder of the London College of Clinical Hypnosis.

LOVE FOR HORSES

Dr Mahadevan had his first horse ride at age 4.

“I find complete joy and peace when I saddle up on a horse.

“It is therapeutic. I was able to share these positive experiences with the disabled later on.”

So obsessed was he with horses that his Brother-teachers at
St John’s Institution in Kuala Lumpur had to pressure him to concentrate on his studies.

“One of the Brothers used to catch hold of me every day and made me sit in the school chapel and write out ‘make me a doctor’ 100 times.

“Then, I had to stay back and finish my homework before I was allowed to ride my horses,” said Dr Mahadevan, who was the only student to ride a horse to school.

He said the homework routine meant he could only leave school for home at 5pm every day.

It pushed him to finish his homework quickly so that he could go home to ride his horses.

“Somehow, it worked. The Bro-thers knew my priorities and exploited my love for horses to make me study,” said Dr Mahadevan.

He was grateful to the Brothers for his academic and professional achievements.

“I owe my success to them and believe anyone can achieve it, given the right teachers to motivate you,” he said.

A young Tan Sri Dr Mahadevan Mahalingam enjoying a pipe, in Vienna, Austria, in 1965, just after graduating as a full-fledged psychiatrist.

PASSION FOR POLO

Dr Mahadevan said although riding kept him fit, it was the game of polo that gave him the adrenaline rush.

“Horse riding led me to pursue polo as I grew up.

“Polo requires strength and endurance, as it involves horseback riding at high speed.

“There must be precision teamwork among players and horses. The game is 80 per cent handling the horses and 20 per cent on the player’s skills,” he said.

His foray into polo led him to come into contact with royalty from all over the world. He also won accolades along the way, the most cherished being the “Clipping of the Golden Jubilee” in 1973 from the Maharaja of Mysore for his 25-year involvement in the game.

In 1998, the then Sultan of Perak Sultan Azlan Shah presented him the “Clipping of the Diamond Jubilee” for his 50 years in polo.

In 2004, at the age of 75, Dr Mahadevan became the oldest polo player in the country.

RIDING WITH DR MAHATHIR

Dr Mahadevan said he got a chance to ride with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad during his first tenure as prime minister.

“Through our love for horse riding, I forged a close relationship with Dr Mahathir.

“I was most elated when he showed enthusiasm in riding at a relatively late age in the 1980s.”

He said he and Dr Mahathir took part in expeditions to the Andes Mountains in Argentina.

“I was fortunate to be there with him and his family to share some hair-raising experience and beautiful moments.”

VICIOUS ATTACK

Dr Mahadevan became disabled and began using a wheelchair after a vicious attack by thugs on Dec 14, 2009 over a family dispute in court over four plots of land.

“On that fateful day, I was kidnapped outside the Penang High Court and driven in my car to a secluded location. The kidnappers actually sympathised with me as a good person and coaxed me to sign some documents, to avoid being harmed.

“When I refused, they hammered me,” said Dr Mahadevan.

He begged them to finish him off instead of leaving him half dead.

“But after taking my gold rings and chain given to me by my mother, plus my documents and grants, they assaulted me further and left me to die.”

He summoned enough courage and strength to crawl to seek help.

Owing to severe injuries to his spine, he now uses a wheelchair and is unable to indulge in his lifelong passion of horse riding.

CLOSE TO HIS HEART

His late parents, Mahalingam Appukutee Mailvaganam and Mabel Ratna Ammal, were the people closest to his heart, and they did not curtail his passion for horses.

Another person close to his heart is Kono Tano, who Dr Mahadevan revered as his “Oba-san” (grandmother in Japanese).

“My mum and Oba-san are the two women who mattered most in my life. Mum was a disciplinarian, but warm and big-hearted.

“She put up with my mischief and madness when I was young.

“Despite not being able to become a teacher, mum taught her children mathematics and algebra,” said Dr Mahadevan of his mum, who died at age 96.

Oba-san was the mother-in-law of Dr Suzuki, a renowned balneotherapist and close friend of Dr Mahadevan’s father.

When Dr Suzuki died from typhus fever, Oba-san was invited to stay in the Mahadevan household.

“Oba-san greatly appreciated this gesture and looked after us like her own family.

“She was there at my birth and presented me with nine sovereigns, one of which was a horseshoe pendant, with a horse head in the centre.

“I still wear it today,” said Dr Mahadevan.

He said Oba-san, who died in 1950, had a great influence on his life and career, including introducing him to Professor Yujiro Ikemi, Japan’s leading psychosomatist and first hypnotist.

WORLDS CONVERGE

In 1967, Dr Mahadevan was invited by the then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra al-Haj to assist in the establishment of a mental healthcare system in the country for the benefit of all Malaysians.

He returned home, where his world of psychiatry and horses converged.

He recounted how Universiti Malaya had declined to hire him as a lecturer as he was considered overqualified.

Dr Mahadevan became the first director of the Central Mental Hospital in Tanjung Rambutan, Perak. He changed its name to Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta to give it a friendlier and more welcoming feeling.

“I introduced concepts and therapies to rehabilitate the mentally ill.

“Putting patients under medication and locking them up was never going to work.”

He discovered that mental patients discharged from the hospital interacted well with horses and gave them confidence to communicate with society.

Tan Sri Dr Mahadevan Mahalingam during his heyday as a polo player.

Dr Mahadevan was instrumental in establishing the Madhuban Home, a halfway home in his hometown of Tambun Heights, Perak, and the drug rehabilitation centre in Batu Gajah, Perak.

“Madhuban Home was set up as I am an ardent believer of therapeutic riding as a rehabilitation for the psycho-socially disabled.”

By 1989, the World Health Organisation awarded a gold medal to Hospital Bahagia Ulu Kinta as the centre was transformed into and recognised as the “Gael” of Malaysia.

Gael County in Belgium was the world’s first foster home.

INTERNATIONAL ACCOLADES

For his untiring work, Dr Mahadevan received accolades from world leaders.

He recalled Professor Carstairs, who worked with him in India, as saying: “You have exceeded even my own expectations.”

Singapore’s founding prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, was grateful to Dr Mahadevan, saying: “You were the man who saved Singapore from riots.”

Dr Mahadevan was involved in the trial of Esther Chan, who was found murdered in Johor in a non-Chinese residential area, sparking speculation of a racially motivated killing.

Lee said: “You convinced the court that it was a Chinese man who had killed a Chinese woman, and not by any other race.

“Thus, there could not be any untoward accusations made.”

In 1996, Dr Mahadevan was appointed consultant psychiatrist at St Brigid’s Hospital in Ardee, Ireland. It led to a clinical attachment with Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, and Queen’s University, Belfast, both in Ireland.

“It was the culmination of my dream,” said Dr Mahadevan.

Today, the London College of Clinical Hypnosis curriculum includes “Mahadevan’s method” of saving lives, and there is also a master’s programme.

He paved the way for the creation of the Riding for the Disabled programme. He is chairman of the Malaysian Paralympic Equestrian Committee.

“I am not swayed by criticism or condemnation of my unconventional ideas to achieve my goals,” said Dr Mahadevan.

All these earned him the sobriquet “father of modern psychiatry” in Malaysia.

He is the first Malaysian president of the Asian chapter of the International College of Psychosomatic Medicine.

In 1996, Harvard named a travelling fellowship after him, as Dr Mahadevan was a member of the prestigious Sigma Xi, the scientific research society of the Harvard/Radcliffe Chapter.

The travelling fellowship, established under the Chester Pierce International Psychiatry Division, provides one month of funded study at the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital.

In 1997, he was initiated into the Harvard chapter of Phi Delta Kappa.

SEEKING SELF-TREATMENT

“As a psychiatrist, I counsel and assist many people.

“However, when I am in need, who counsels me?”

To attain inner peace, Dr Mahadevan sought the services of people like Shirdi Sai Baba, Satya Sai Baba, Maharaji (Prem Rawat) and H.H. Swami Guru.

“The likes of Maharaji have provided me with the answers and I consider him my psychiatrist,” said Dr Mahadevan.