May 16, 2011
As I went to meet gynecologist Dr Rathi Devi her calm and serene countenance surprised me considering her busy schedule and the upheavals or rather tragedies she faced in her life, about which I came to know only during the one hour long interaction I had with her. After coming out I just kept wondering how she could be so composed, calm, serene and also exude so much happiness. It was not difficult to find an answer as I remembered Irish literary critic George Bernard Shaw’s quote “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself”. That is what Rathi Devi has been doing and she has found contentment, happiness, joy, meaning and purpose in her life.
Horace Walpole was right when he had said “the world is a tragedy to those who feel, but a comedy to those who think”. May be, that Rathi Devi had kept in mind what this English writer had said when she faced two tragedies of her life. She became a widow at the age of 19 with two young kids to take care of when her husband died of blood cancer. When life was once again smooth and normal, tragedy struck again giving another blow to her already tattered life. Her older son Dr Kiran who was doing his House Surgeon in Tumkur, died in an accident. Any other person in her position would have become a mental wreck as a result of this turmoil. But Rathi Devi is made up of a sterner stuff and it is her profession and her unbridled resolve that helped her weave the threads of her life all over again. Today, she had devoted her life to serving patients, to create awareness through her writings and also for helping needy mothers and babies, in whatever little way she can. So I am not surprised when she tells me “my hobby is my profession and my profession is my hobby”. Dr Rathi Devi is the personification of a selfless gynecologist who is committed for the betterment of the society.
Rathi Devi was born in Elluru village of Udupi Taluk as the 12th child of her late parents Vagdevi and late Ramachandra Udupa. Her father Ramachandra Udupa was a Sanskrit scholar and teacher and she did her primary education in the same Sanskrit school started by her father in Elluru. She finished her high school and PUC from Admaru Pre-University College. As a child Rathi was very active and bold and nurtured an ambition to become a doctor. But she was a destiny’s child and her dream was cut short when she was married off to Laxminarayana Bhat, an hotelier from Mysore at 17. Destiny struck the first cruel blow when her husband died when she was hardly 19 leaving behind two little kids to tend to. To rub salt to the wounds her in-laws threw her out of home refusing to give any property that rightfully belonged to her husband and to her. She was taken aback by the impiety of her in-laws. Not to give up the fight easily she subsequently wrote to the then Law Minister Arun Jaitely and got the law amended which allowed women to fight in property disputes from their place of residence.
It was her parents and older sister late Padmakshi who came to her rescue by giving moral and physical support when she came back as a widow. “My mother gave me two options. To marry again or to realize my long cherished dream of becoming a doctor and she opted to care of the children. I chose the second option because I remembered my father saying that education is the best gift any one could have and I am happy I did the right choice at that tender age”, recalls Dr Rathi. Though 60% mark was requirement for medical seat those days in the 3 years of gap the percentage had gone up to 85%. She was determined to get a merit seat and began to prepare seriously to for her PUC. Her hard work paid off and she succeeded in getting a merit set at KMC Mangalore.
With her parents and sister taking responsibility of brining up her two children Rathi stayed in the hostel and concentrated fully on her studies. “I took a solemn decision to shape my own future and to be independent, which gave me the required strength and fortitude. Though some men tried to take advantage of my vulnerable position I brushed aside any such overtures and began to dress like a simple village girl to avoid unwanted glances and snide comments”, she describes. Along with her studies she also had to fight for the rights of her husband’s property in Mysore which took away much of her time and energy. Ultimately she gave up having lost the zeal to fight when nothing was coming out of the fight. “My mother-in-law wanted me to use as a domestic help and also wanted my children to work in the hotel. I never wanted to have such a life for my children or for myself”, she says with a tinge of sadness as she recalls those days. She, however, has no regrets for doing so as her goal in life was to bring up her children and forget her own problems on seeing the problems of women who were coming to her for treatment.
It took 14 years for Rathi Devi to finish her education and became independent. She finished her MBBS, MD and DGO courses in flying colours. She was appointed in KMC Medical College soon after her and continues to be the Associate Professor at KMC even now. At the same time she began to practice privately and when the patients began to unfold their problems, tragedies and difficulties, Dr Rati felt her problems were insignificant and that made her forget her own cup of woes. By now her children were growing. Elder son late Dr Kiran had finished his MBBS and was doing House Surgeion in Tumkur when he died in an accident about 13 years ago. Younger son Dr Kishore chose to become a orthodontist and is now the Associate Profession at A J Institute of Dental Sciences. He is married to Dr Arati Kishore, who is a dental surgeon.
After the death of her son her family and friends advised her to get her younger son married so that the daughter-in-law can fill the vacuum in her life and bring a new hope of life with her. Her son Dr Kishore got married at 24 and the wife Arati and their two children have succeeded in restoring some normalcy in the troubled life of Dr Rathi Devi. On hindsight she says “I sometimes feel my son would have been alive if he were to be here and feel responsible for sending him to Tumkur”. But she soon regains her composure to concentrate on her present.
When asked how she coped up with such turmoil and whether life has been unfair to her Dr Rathi says it is the event of her life that has given her the strength and courage to see life in an objective way. “I know what life is all about, what sufferings are and hence when in deal with patients I come across many instances where life is very unkind to women”, she contends. However, she bears no regrets in life at all and adds “I do agree medical profession in India in facing major crisis as the society no longer holds the profession in high esteem unlike the past. But all these years I have found gratification in the profession as my patients treat me as god and reciprocate it. I have been treating both the first and the second generation of women patients. I could forget my personal tragedies as I listen to their lives. My work has given me satisfaction. Whatever I have been able to achieve today it is because of my profession”, she avers.
Dr Rathi who will be completing 60 years coming August is serving as a Professor at KMC, Mangalore and is also associated with Lady Goschen Hospital and is also the founder of Balmatta Health Centre. She is greatly attached to the Lady Goschen Hospital. “I have learnt a lot from Lady Goschen hospital and from the poor women who come there for treatment. I don’t like leaving that place though I have been flooded with lucrative offers”. It may be remembered that Rathi Devi was responsible for the delivery of healthy quadruplets in the same hospital in November 2007. Dr Rathi provided free service and treatment to the mother and her children even after the delivery which exhibits her largesse and helpful nature.
Having realized that majority of the health problems has its roots in ignorance she has started writing books which are distributed free of cost. She wrote her autobiography “Echetha Mahile” (awakened woman) so that it can be a source of inspiration for many hapless widows like her. She has also written books entitled “Aids Information Awareness”, Uterus related cancer, Globalization and Women’s Health problems, “Fatal pregnancies and solutions” and handwritten printed book titled “normal delivery and caesarian delivery” and many more. Two more books are also in the pipeline – one about birth control and the other “nine months, 9 matters and 9 visits”, for the expectant mothers.
About her field of specialization Dr Rathi Devi feels that not everything is ok and feels that an amendment of Termination of Pregnancy Act from the current 20 weeks to 12 weeks so that female infanticide can be curbed. “The sex of the baby can be determined only after 12 weeks and as per the present act MTP can be done up to 20 weeks which gives an opportunity for parents to determine the sex of the baby and terminate it if it is found to be a girl”. While lamenting the commercialization of MTP, Dr Rathi is also increasingly worried about young girls opting for over-the-counter abortion pills or pregnancy termination pills which are being misused. As per law these pills are required to be prescribed only by licensed doctors with a MTP certificate. But unfortunately all the doctors and even chemists prescribe these tablets which will have deleterious impact on the health of women”. The risk from these pills is that sometimes even when the abortion is not complete there will be bleeding which will continue for months or till it is taken care of. This means the uterus will be open during the bleeding period and there is a chance of uterus becoming susceptible to infections including septic abortion or damaging the Fallopian tubes and several other related complications including ectopic pregnancy, which may prove quite fatal.
Dr Rathi also gives a word of caution against the unrestricted use of E-Pills, the side effects of which are yet to be ascertained. With regard to the controversy regarding normal delivery vs caesarian delivery, Dr Rathi says caesarian deliveries increasing alarmingly because of late marriages resulting in late conception, conception through hormones or other fertility methods, patients and doctors not willing to take risks and women opting for caesarian to avoid pain. Dr Rathi says sometimes doctors do not want to take risks because people are unable to understand the risk involved. She says in certain complicated cases some women start bleeding like tap and in such situations one need to have bottles of blood ready to provide for the patient. She also says that these days doctors are not bold enough to take any risks and as a result forceps and vacuum deliveries have totally disappeared.
Till her mother passed away three years back the other pass time she had was taking her mother out on vacations and to places of religious significance both in India and abroad. Now much of her time is confined to her profession and her family. She finds it relaxing to water the garden and sometimes even to cooks her favourite dishes. “I must thank my mother-in-law who made me cook after my marriage and now that come in handy”, she says with an elfin smile that conveys a trace of sadness.
I ask her whether she ever felt the need or considered the idea of getting married again and she says she never felt it or that thought has come to her mind at all. “Fortunately for me my children were growing and my career was just getting started. There was no time to think about and the need did not arise at all”, she says emphatically. Her advice for women is not to feel they are weak or inferior to men in any way. She expects women to take victory and defeats in their strides and face life head-on by learning from the past, living for today and by looking for tomorrow, just like the way she had done. She says her patients are her treasure, who respects her for what she is.
At this juncture, I remember American poet Maya Angelo’s quote “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. I can vouch for the fact that Dr Rathi is adored by her patients because she knows how to make them feel. It is doctors like her who have helped keep the reputation of the medical fraternity on a higher pedestal.