True Grit

Winter is the season of Doctor’s conferences in my city, when super specialists of many branches of medicine meet to discuss professional research and new developments. Among these are many women who are working shoulder-to-shoulder with their male counterparts. It is difficult to imagine that just over 150 years ago, a woman doctor was unheard and undreamt of. This reminder was strongly communicated in a recent performance that traced the life of India’s first female doctor–Anandibai Joshi.

Anandibai Joshi is known to be the first woman of Indian origin to graduate with a degree in medicine in the US.  Her story of grit and determination is an inspiration, and a trailblazer.

Born in 1865 as Yamuna, the third unwanted daughter, she was married off at the age of nine to a widower postal clerk 20 years her senior. Her husband Gopalrao took charge of her life by first changing her name to Anandi; but also encouraged her to study, which was unusual for that time. Anandi was a bright and curious girl-child, balancing between her innocence, her thirst for learning and her expected chores and role as ‘wife’. She became a mother at the age of 14, but lost her 10-day old child due to lack of medical care and facilities. Traumatised by this event, she began to dream the undreamable– to become a doctor so that she can help other women like herself. In a time when a girl going to school was spat at, and looked upon with intense disapproval, Anandi was supported to some extent by her husband.

Even more unusual is the story of how she reached America. A letter written by Gopalrao to an American missionary asking if Anandi could study medicine in America, was published in some American magazines, where a woman called Theodicia Carpenter read it and wrote to the young girl with an offer of a home and support if she were to go to New York. Against opposition from all quarters in India, Anandi embarked upon this journey into the unknown, reaching New York after an arduous two-month ship voyage. Once she reached, with support from her mentor Theodicia, Anandi Gopal Joshi applied to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and was granted admission at the age of 19. Medical school and life in an alien land was extremely difficult; but Anandi met the challenges head on—the extreme cold weather (she changed her attire from the traditional nine-yard sari to the six-yard one), the food (at one point she became so nutritionally deficient she had to start eating eggs), very poor health, loneliness, hostile classmates and neighbours, and nasty letters from her suspicious husband. Anandi persevered towards her goal and got through medical school, graduating in 1886. She returned to India the same year and was appointed as the physician-in-charge at the Albert Edward Hospital in the then princely state of Kohlapur (in present day Maharashtra).

Tragically, before she could finally make her childhood dream come true, by practising as a doctor, Dr Anandi Joshi died of TB in 1887, just over a month before her 22nd birthday. As per her wish, her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, who placed them in her family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.

The true-grit story of Yamuna/Anandi was brought to life in a solo performance by Manasi Prabhakar Joshi. Titled Dr Anandibai this powerfully transposed the story of the path breaker in the context of the challenges that women face even today—reminding us that while on the one hand much has changed, on the other, much remains the same. Anandibai’s story continues to remain an inspiration and a beacon.




A Seven Point Something Guide to Coping with the Big C

My friend Anita, who told her story in BRAVELY BATTLING THE BIG C had many people reach out to her after they read the blog, to tell her how much it had helped them. Hence she decided to share a few things which might help them further. Here goes…


1.Do not panic. Take action as swiftly as possible. Time is of the essence. Once you have got the diagnosis, there is no time to be wasted. It is a disease which anyway presents itself very slowly and sometimes not very typically. That is why many a times, it is not diagnosed until last.  So don’t waste even a moment once you know.

2.Choose your oncologist with care. This is extremely important as you are going to stay with this doctor for a very long time, at least 4-5 months for sure! So it becomes imperative that you have a good rapport with your him/her. Believe me, that’s half the battle won ! Once you have taken the decision, have firm faith in your doctors.

3.Solicit help of your near and dear ones. It is hard to accept the situation any which way. But to face it alone without the support of your loved ones makes it that much harder. You need a lot of emotional strength during this period and there is nothing like having your dear ones encouraging you, looking after you, supporting you.

4.Take care of your nutrition and exercise. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation..all of this take a heavy toll on our body. The only way to throw out the toxins is to have good nutrition. Healthy fresh food during the entire period of treatment is an absolute must. This helps guard against secondary infections which can delay the treatment. So it is important to take good care of food. No eating out during this time should be the mantra. And of course, exercise is a must. I know the energy levels are depleted beyond imagination but half an hour of brisk walking is essential…if only to remind ourselves that we can walk! The hormonal treatment adds quickly to body weight. And don’t forget the chemo dose you get is directly related to your body weight. So why not reduce some weight and save money too, besides feeling fitter!

5.Cry buckets behind closed doors but put up a brave front when you face people. Crying is inevitable when you have such a big disease to tackle. The chemotherapy and its side effects only make it worse. You tend to become emotionally unstable and cry for no apparent reason all the time. It’s okay, cry it out. But wipe your tears when you are with people. For you get courage when you show don’t know how strong you are till being strong is the only option.

6.A s in pregnancy, with cancer too there are many old wives tales .People will tell you it’s your karma and blah blah. Or of some miracle cure. Do not listen to other people’s stories. You need only positive inputs and positive attitude. Surround yourself with people who can make you laugh and make the situation lighter. Concerted efforts of scientists are focused on understanding the disease and cure, and it is unlikely that some diet or herb or cure is likely to be the answer ! Listen only to your Doctors.

7. Have faith in yourself and modern medicine to combat the disease. Your happiness and wellness depend only on you. If you bravely, resolutely fight it out ,the disease will soon be on its way out! Just treat this as another challenge in your life which has to be dealt with and vanquished, and so it will be!!!



“His vocation to be a medical healer was deeper than his vocation to practice law.  He practiced law for about 20 years and then quit forever (though vigorously engaged in politics); his medical healing of sick individuals continued throughout the rest of his life.”

A recent lecture by Dr Mark Lindley at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad explored Gandhi’s persona as a healer, and health advisor as well as practitioner. Lindley himself wears many hats! An internationally renowned musicologist, as well as an ecological economist, he is also a Gandhi scholar with particular interest in Gandhi’s views on health.

While I was aware of Gandhi’s strong and passionate views on health, diet and lifestyle, a lot of which can be found in his seminal work Key to Health, Lindley’s talk revealed several new aspects of Gandhi which I felt would be interesting to share.

We all know that Mohandas Gandhi went to England in 1888 when he was 18 years old to study law, under advice from family elders. What is perhaps not as well known is that Gandhi’s own desire was to study medicine there. At that point however, apparently the popular perception that becoming a barrister would be an ‘economically’ more practical choice prevailed.

The idea resurfaced around 1908 after he had already been practising law in South Africa. Gandhi may have felt that he could serve people better by practicing medicine than by practicing law. This time, it was the fact that studying medicine would involve vivisection that led him to reject the idea. During his visit to London in 1909, he wrote to a friend that a certain doctor there “…tells me that in the course of his studies he must have killed about fifty frogs. An examination in physiology without this, he tells me, is not possible. If this is so, I have absolutely no desire to go in for medical studies. I would neither kill a frog, nor use one for dissecting if it has been specially killed [by someone else] for the purpose of dissection.”

Interestingly Gandhi’s writings soon after that visit reflect a radical change of view. In Hind Swaraj which he wrote on board the ship while returning from England in 1909, Gandhi vociferously avers “I was at one time a great lover of medical profession. It was my intention to become a doctor for the sake of my country. I no longer hold that opinion.”

“It is worth considering why we take up the profession of medicine. It is certainly not taken up for the purpose of serving humanity. We become doctors so that we may obtain honours and riches. I have endeavoured to show that there is no real service of humanity in the profession, and that it is injurious to mankind. Doctors make a show of their knowledge, and charge exorbitant fees. …The populace, in its credulity and in the hope of ridding itself of some disease, allows itself to be cheated.”

Reading these lines, 109 years later, I was struck by how much this sounds like some of the concerns about the medical profession today!

As the famous French epigram goes “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, in other words “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”