The Dancing Moment, by Mallika Sarabhai, in THE WEEK

December 19, 2010

The dancing moment
by Mallika Sarabhai

She caught my eye as I walked into the departure hall of the Ahmedabad airport. Dressed in a neat and simple kurta pyjama, grey-haired and small-built, she could have been any of the women travelling with their families. What made me look again was her shoes—no-nonsense sports shoes. I looked at her face again, searching for signs of NRI status—the only kind who wears sports shoes with Indian clothes, saris included. No, she certainly did not look like it.

I took a seat at a far corner of the waiting area. Soon she changed her seat to the one next to me, smiled and started talking on her mobile. “Are you awake?” she asked in Marathi. I smiled to myself. It was 6 a.m., and obviously, the person at the other end was now awake, thanks to the call! She finished her call and turned to me. “That was my daughter in Kochi. She is a surgeon specialising in craniofacial surgery.”

I was intrigued. Women surgeons are a rarity, one in this speciality not something I had encountered ever before. I asked her about herself and she readily talked.
Sujata, or Dr Rajapurkar, is a medical social worker in the Muljibhai Patel Urological Hospital in Nadiad, Gujarat. The hospital is famous for its wonderful work in kidney transplants, and Sujata‘s husband is a nephrologist there. She looks after patients, counsels them and raises funds for dialysis and transplants for the poor.

“My daughter and son had to be put in a school in Vadodara as there were no really good schools in Nadiad. I used to commute practically every day,” says Sujata. “She came first all through school, fifth in the SSC Boards and is a gold medallist in college. She specialised as an ENT surgeon, and now this super specialisation in Kochi. She got a fellowship to further specialise in the US. Then she wants to come back here. There are so many children whose lives are ruined because of facial deformities. Using the bones of their thighs and legs, she creates new faces for them. Like making dolls. The children get a new life.” She smiled ruefully. “But all this super specialisation has put marriage on the back burner. Besides, men don‘t seem to like such accomplished women.”

I put in my two bits of feminism. “Don‘t press her to marry. She is obviously loving what she does. She has to have great career commitments to do what she is doing. If marriage happens, it happens,” I said.

“We have always wanted our children to fly,” she said. “We have never allowed anyone to clip their wings. A husband probably would. We are both so fulfilled with what we do, our children must feel the same. Sometimes I want to dance. Just for myself. And I do. When a patient returns cured, someone on whom we did a transplant 29 years ago, to invite us to his daughter‘s wedding, for me that is a dancing moment. I am fortunate that these moments are not infrequent. Last year I managed to raise 01 crore for our poor patients. So many hundreds are helped with that money. That, too, is a dancing moment.”

As boarding was announced, I watched her walk away, having promised to dance for a fund-raiser. Her face glowed. Her inner conviction and pride in what she was doing shone from her eyes. She was not bothered with what she wore, which brand she carried, which car she drove, or which party she attended. She loved the work which allowed her to bring light and life to others. She took pride in the knowledge that her daughter would do the same. And she had things to accomplish.

I realised in a flash that this was where Bharat meets India. This is the meeting place of the two which could allow our citizens lead lives of meaning and dignity, where technology and knowledge could bridge the gaps and lead to a kinder world. People like Sujata are the answer to the increasingly widening chasm between our fractured country's two halves. More power to her ilk.

Post script: After I wrote this article, Sujata was selected for the CNSW (Council of Nephrology Social Workers) International Social Worker Award by the National Kidney Foundation in the US.

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