Weekly Local Biography

 Dr. Jaspal Rai Ahuja (“Mor Bpan”)


Within one minute of sitting down with Dr. Jaspal, the managing director of Chang Puek Hospital, we were discussing the linguistic origins of the Tai languages, Sanskrit and Latin. This came after explanation of the name “Mor Bpan” by which he is usually known. “Mor” being Doctor and “Bpan” being as close as we could get in English script to the Thai contraction of Jaspal, where the “p” is either a “hard” P or a “soft” B and the final “L” in Thai is pronounced as an “N”. Sometimes Thai defies transliteration.

Dr. Jaspal puts one at ease very quickly, but of course, as a practising medico, this should be one of his fortes. It is. From the origins of the Tai language we were suddenly engrossed in the history of Siam, with the many peoples that eventually became the inhabitants of a country called Thailand. “I like history,” said the good doctor. “I should go back and trace my heritage,” he said to himself.

He is the eldest son of a textile trader from the (pre partition) Punjab who had come to Thailand as a youngster. However, on one of his parents’ trips back to their homeland, Dr. Jaspal was born, but only spent three months there before the family returned to their adopted country, Thailand.

“My father was not well educated, but he made sure that we all got a good education.” Towards that end, young Jaspal was sent to an Indian international school in Bangkok (Bharat Vidyalaya) where he passed his matriculation. At that stage it was time to look at his future career, and Jaspal knew two things - the first was that he did not want to be a shopkeeper, and the second was that he knew his preferred option of being a writer or journalist would not meet parental approval. “I wanted to present a ‘real’ profession to my father,” and from that desire came the decision to study medicine.

The decision made and agreed to by the family, he went to India and completed his two year pre-med training at Delhi University, then went to Medical School at Rajasthan University, graduating in 1969.

On his return to Thailand he completed his internship at Chulalongkorn Hospital - an unpaid position! When that was over and now possessing full registration to practice here, he looked around to see where he should go. “I needed to make my own money, instead of asking for it from my parents.”

Having relatives in Chiang Mai, and remembering pleasant visits here to see them, pushed the young doctor north. “I found an opening in a private hospital, and after a while I also opened my own clinic on Chang Puek Road.”

The industrious doctor was able to open a small 25 bed hospital after 6 years, and then another 12 years later, in conjunction with his brothers and friends, he opened the 100 bed Chang Puek Hospital.

While that may sound like a dream run, with the family all chipping in, it is not as easy as it sounds. What has to be considered are the high expectations in an Indian family. “My parents always hammered into me, you are the eldest. Believe me, that’s tough. As eldest you are expected to be a father-like figure. There is a lot of onus and burden. As the eldest I can give advice and they will listen to me. There is respect for seniority in the family.” However, it was also apparent that being the eldest almost meant that he is expected to be infallible - a difficult concept to live with, all of us being mortal, after all.

Dr. Jaspal expounded further, drawing allegories from the Ramayana and the trials of Rama. “There is no asking ‘Why?’ You have to assimilate all this philosophy. These stories have an importance in everyday life,” he said. This I found very interesting, the ability to look at the old fable and find its relevance to life today.

He went on to describe his personal philosophy. “Nature neither rewards nor punishes. It follows the Law of Consequences.” He went on, “When I have suffering, I ask why did it happen? It is simply a consequence (of something else). The concept of ‘Karma’ is not understood. The idea of predestination is really only the consequence of factors in the past.”

Talking with Dr. Jaspal it was obvious again that these were not just glib words flowing off his tongue, but concepts that had been carefully thought through and honed, using ‘family wisdom’ as handed down from his forebears, and amalgamating that with his own ideas to produce this credo. I admit to not fully understanding the concept of Karma either, but after some time with him, I have a better handle today, notwithstanding my western mind-set.

Despite his managing director title, Dr. Jaspal is still active in clinical practice as a GP. His ambitions include, “I want to remain active as a medical practitioner and in the future be a source of scholarship funds for deserving youths to get the best of education. That is my dream.”

Of course his own three children did have the advantage of a good education, and all have been through university, but surprisingly, none are doctors. I asked if that was a disappointment? Quite the contrary it seems, “I’m absolutely thrilled that they are not doctors. I know the stress it takes.” (Being a doctor myself, with children, I knew exactly what he was saying, having actively discouraged my eldest son from entering medical school, but who did it anyway!)

What does the busy doctor do for a relaxing hobby? “I read six newspapers a day,” was the reply. I asked what were the other five and he laughed at the impudence of it all!

However, one day he will write a book. His heritage? The Ramayana explained? Or even a book on Chiang Mai restaurants? Dr. Jaspal awaits the Law of Consequences!