Passport for a full and happy life
Krishna Rao is a dangerous man. A retired doctor who is wanted for spreading infection.
While Krishna may have now retired as a surgeon he has found how to live life. Fully.
His outgoing nature is infectious. He sweeps all he meets along with him.
As a recent addition to the Sunshine Coast Oriana Choir, he has fitted in perfectly since joining as a bass singer mid-2016.
“If you had told me a year ago that this is what I would be doing, I would not have believed you,” Krishna tells me as we travel between Budapest and Bratislava on the choir’s recent tour of Central Europe.
This comes from someone who has done so much in his life already.
An event that stands out in an already active life was that at the magical age of 50, Krishna’s wonderful wife Sona took him on a dive adventure to the coral atoll of Lakshadweep, north of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.
It was scuba diving and he even scared the instructor with his enthusiasm.
Instead of falling in backwards from the boat, he tried a forward-facing dive … with full equipment on.
The force of the dive with the weight of equipment could have been fatal.
It wasn’t and he lived to write another chapter in a rich life.
Born in Ootacamund, which was the summer capital of Madras residency during the British Raj, Krishna worked at various places throughout India, Malaysia and the UK.
Mysore was where he worked most, a city of 1.2 million famous for its temple, silk and sandlewood, teak and rosewood furniture as well as coffee.
Going to school with the Irish Christian Brothers at St Edmunds in Shillong, Krishna had always wanted to be a doctor, but whether that was due to his mother or his own wishes remains in doubt.
“Mum always wanted to be a doctor and couldn’t,” he said.
“I thought it was my idea. Yet wiser now, I believe it was my mother who influenced me.”
Krishna’s involvement with Australia started with Richie Benaud’s touring cricket team of India in 1959. His heroes were Norman O’Neill and Neil Harvey.
Krishna’s uncles were good cricketers … one played first class in India.
As for Krishna, he was a good cricketer at school … opening bat and, by his own admission, “a butter-fingered fielder.”
His next contact with Australia was through his father, who was a good tennis player and coached as well.
“He made me read Lawn Tennis, The Australian Way. Players such as Rosewall, Hoad and Mal Anderson had chapters in the book,” he says.
“Then, while doing the English O levels, I read The Far Country by Neville Shute. It is about a Czech doctor and his experience as a displaced person in Australia.”
Not surprising perhaps, Krishna has written a novel, The Coucal Collaterals. It’s about mistaken identity that leads to an innocent doctor being arrested as a terrorist.
It’s set in the UK, US, India and Iraq.
So how did Krishna get into singing?
“One thing I wanted to do was write my memoirs,” he said, “but I got writer’s block.
“I mentioned to my dad’s carer that I would like to sing, in a band or something like that.
“She mentioned Oriana Choir. That’s where it started.
“To my total surprise, I was accepted.
“That was four months ago. I am the baby of the choir.”
Krishna’s love of singing came from the school choir, starting as a soprano.
“A major success was The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.
“I would like to sing more opera. It has to appeal to me, to my peculiar taste in music.
“Mozart, Carmen, La Traviata, Marriage of Figaro.
“I also like other music … The Beatles, some old country such as Jim Reeves.
“Oriana has given me an opportunity. Even though it’s intensive, it has supplemented what I was trying to do by learning to play the sax.
“It’s helping me to do all the sorts of stuff I wanted to as a medical student at the age of 16.”
Singing, to Krishna, means fun, fitness, a reflection of a particular mood for the day whether that be nice, jolly stuff or sadness.
“I had always fancied myself as a soloist yet here I am in a choir. It’s challenging because I have a loud voice. I need to control myself … be part of team.
“The result is harmony – like a team. Like playing cricket and tennis. Right now I’m a doubles player.
“It brings a certain level of fitness but also a sense of camaraderie. More than that … community.
“A diverse community. You can see how diverse they are … farmers and judges, school teachers and surgeons.
“Being with Oriana has also given me the opportunity to travel. I had not thought of that as being a bonus when I joined … but we have been singing in some of the most amazing cathedrals in central Europe. Bringing joy to those who listen.
“It’s also the challenge of learning something new … extending one’s self.
“It’s important to keep learning. In life you have to belong to something larger than yourself.”
Krishna met Sona when he was a house surgeon and she was a third year medical student.
That was in Delhi. Her father had fractured a collarbone in a fall from a motor scooter.
“She came in with him. And I continued to pursue her relentlessly.
“A year to the day later he fractured his leg. I believe he thought things were not going fast enough.”
Krishna came to Australia because after completing surgical training in Delhi he went to Malaysia as a lecturer in surgery and was training Malaysians for the Royal Australasian Surgeons College.
They allowed him to sit for an exam and he was accepted without setting foot in Australia, but that enabled him to go to the UK for further training.
Back in India, he worked nearly 20 years, with some sabbaticals in the UK.
In 2006, nearing the end of his career, he set out to see if he could work in Australia.
It was the one thing missing from his CV.
He enjoyed a short locum in Redcliffe in 2006 so much that when a position opened up at Rockhampton he joined as a staff specialist surgeon.
Now living at Twin Waters, he regards the area as paradise.
“My wife has got to do her training as a paediatrician,” he says.
“We have two boys. One is a mechanical engineer in Sydney and the other a computer software engineer with Deloite in New York.”
The highlights for Krishna on the choir’s tour of Europe included the very first performance at Matthias Church in Budapest.
“That was stunning,” he said, “just like Budapest itself.
“And the fact we were able to satisfy our audiences in terms of their enjoyment.”
So what makes a man, who has fitted so much into life already, happy? What inspires him?
“In life, it’s about getting it right,” he says.
“I like to sing well … don’t let myself get too sad.
“Most things don’t matter that much in five years time.
“There is always rough parts of life but now it’s time to enjoy myself.
“For 40 years I defined myself as a doctor. A doctor first.
“That brought everything – the highs, the lows, the achievements, the failures, the stress, the release.
“The feeling of miracles when patients survived and you didn’t expect them to.
“There were huge successes as well as disasters and one had to cope with both.
“My profession took me all over the world. I used my medicine as a passport.
“I worked in three continents and lectured in America.”
An accidental inspiration for Krishna was Theodor Billroth, an Austrian surgeon generally regarded as the founding father of modern abdominal surgery.
As a musician, he was a close friend and confidant of Johannes Brahms, a leading patron of the Viennese musical scene and one of the first to attempt a scientific analysis of musicality.
Krishna came across “Dr Bill” when he was training in the UK.
He was asked if could do a gastrectomy – the partial or total surgical removal of the stomach – and it was his study of Billroth’s work that gave him the necessary skills.
Seeing the memorial to Dr Bill at St Gilgen in Austria’s lake country while on the recent central Europe tour highlighted the circle of life.
Another example of Krishna’s life journey was meeting UK actress Felicity Kendal at the QPAC stage door in Brisbane.
The former star of the BBC television series The Good Life was pleased to meet up with Krishna and Sona.
Her parents, Geoffrey and Laura, had toured India performing Shakespeare’s plays when Krishna was in the ninth grade. Their interpretations of Macbeth and Merchant of Venice certainly inspired him.
For a man who has achieved much, Krishna’s tips are simple: “Take life one day at a time and take the rough with the smooth.
“Enjoy what you have and not hanker for what you don’t have.”